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This new AI-powered paint tool helps you create custom colors with your voice

Speaking in Color, a voice-controlled tool from Sherwin-Williams, uses natural language systems to interpret descriptions of the perfect color.

This new AI-powered paint tool helps you create custom colors with your voice
[Source Images: Jon Tyson/Unsplash, Sharon McCutcheon/Pexels]

If an architect wanted to create a building that matched the color of a New York City summer sunset, they’d have to pore over potentially hundreds of color cards designed for industry to get anything close, and still it’d be a tall order to find that exact match. But a new AI-powered, voice-controlled tool from Sherwin-Williams aims to change that.

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The paint brand recently launched Speaking in Color, a tool that allows users to tell it about certain places, objects, or shades in order to arrive at that perfect color. You start with a broad description like, say, “New York City summer sunset,” and then fine tune from there once it responds with photos and other options with more in-depth preferences like “darker red,” “make it moodier,” or “add a sliver of sun,” until it’s done.

Sherwin Williams Speaking in Color from Wunderman Thompson on Vimeo.

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Developed with agency Wunderman Thompson, it’s a React web app that uses natural language to find your preferred color using both third-party and proprietary code. The tool’s custom algorithm allows you to tweak colors in a way that translates statements like “make it dimmer,” “add warmth,” or “more like the 1980s” into mathematical adjustments.

As of now, the tool is exclusive to architects and the company’s high-performance coil coating paint business, with the goal of creating one of the largest color libraries in the world. So it’s not quite ready for you to paint your kitchen “Bud Light In The Morning Sun,” but maybe someday.

Christian Zimprich, marketing manager for Sherwin-Williams Coil Coatings, says Speaking in Color is a major evolution of the brand’s past work in helping architects play with and develop new colors, like with 2019’s Color Mixology and Thinking in Color, which used hands and brain waves, respectively.

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“Investing in new tools and technology to make something that’s never been done before requires time, trust, and the ability to be agile,” says Zimprich, adding that Wunderman Thompson originally pitched the idea three years ago, but the tech wasn’t quite there yet. “The final result isn’t always easy to see—you have to be in it for the long haul and have faith. For us, the biggest challenge was keeping everyone on board throughout the prototype and testing phases to get to the end product.”

Wunderman Thompson group creative director Brett Knutson says that even though Sherwin-Williams is often thought of as a paint company, it’s a leader in coil coatings—a high-performance paint applied in the manufacturing process to primarily steel or aluminum for a range of industries, including high-end architectural and construction use—which goes far beyond the typical association with interior house paint.

“While product innovation is critical, being a leader means that innovation goes beyond the product itself to help customers realize their vision along the entire journey,” says Knutson. “Speaking In Color lives up to this mission, and can be a guiding tool for both customer initiatives and business planning. It’s the perfect combination of Sherwin-Williams Coil Coatings investment in color, technology and data.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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