CMF and its importance for a successful hardware product

Vidyadhar Kulkarni
May 23, 2020 · 6 min read

The aesthetics and the functionality of a product equally impact the success of your hardware product. A product’s visual, feel, and behavior influences it’s functional and perceived value. These combined aesthetic features are known as CMF — Color, Material, Finish. CMF defines whether the product feels rich or cheap, whether a product is robust or delicate.

It’s very important to define the CMF during the product design phase as it influences the manufacturing and post-processing process. The CMF needs to be well communicated to manufacturers to preserve the original intent of the product.

Color can make or break a product launch. With 93% of consumers citing color as the priority factor in purchase decisions, Color can be used to highlight different aspects of the product, let’s see how…

Emphasis

Color helps the user to focus on a particular area of the product, for example the rose gold color on Nike wristband highlights the branding as well as the push button.

Emotion

The blue color is considered to give emotions such as trust, safety, and reliability. The blue chair would look more reliable and comfortable than that of a red chair.

Red represents danger, speed, boldness, love, and passion. The red traffic lights pretty well convey the emotion of danger.

Black senses strength, power, richness, and quality. GoPro’s black color represents its strength, rigidity, and weatherproof qualities.

Orange/Yellow gives an emotion of caution. Most of the industrial tools and vehicles have orange or yellow colors. The Black & Decker power tools come in orange color for the same reason.

White symbolizes purity and cleanliness. Apple uses white as its primary color.

Green represents nature. Most of the agriculture products we see come in green color such as the shredder shown in the image.

Another way to follow this is by using the matrix shown below. The x-axis shows the level of expressiveness while the y-axis represents the level of maturity.

The color matrix

Combination/Color Blocking

Have you come across a product and without having the need for a second look, you guess the brand of the product?

A great example of this is Google products. They split their cosmetic product into two main parts, one side is more flashy and the other is subtle. So, the usage of just two colors not only makes it a minimal design (which is the latest trend) but also makes the manufacturing easy.

The line of Google products

While consumer product companies have the liberty to choose whatever color they want for their products, the medical product industries have limitations. The below chart specifies the color functions in medical devices.

ANSI Document

Pantone Matching System (PMS) is the single most effective way to communicate color. However Europe follows RAL color coding. Chinese manufacturers follow both.

Material selection is pretty straightforward. While the color selection is art, material selection is science. The selection is driven by the requirements. Let’s see what are the influencing factors for material selection…

Properties

The selection of aluminum for weight optimization instead of steel can be a wise choice.

Apple watch in aluminum (left) and stainless steel (right)

HDPE is UV resistant as compared to PVC in agri products. A snapshot of the heat test on PVC, HDPE, and foam resin showed that HDPE is way stronger than the other two.

Heat test conducted on PVC, HDPE, and foam resin

Comfort

Adding a rubber sleeve on a product can provide both grip and cushion.

This can be achieved by adding an individual rubber sleeve on a product or by double injection molding rubber into the plastic.

For metals, designate the specific alloy — here, mechanical properties (Al 6061, Al 7075, SS 304, etc.) are the driving factor for most people.

For plastics, designate the type of resin you want (e.g., UV-resistant ABS, food-safe HDPE), and work with your manufacturer to find the exact resin. I like to get a few recommendations from the manufacturer, then read the data sheets to make the final pick. You don’t want to do too much work by yourself on this subject, only to find out that your dream resin has a twelve-week lead time and an unreasonable minimum order quantity.

Finish of the metal part depends on the post-processing while the finish of the plastic part depends primarily on the texture of the mold.

Metals

Metals can undergo numerous post-processing operations such as anodizing, metal plating, electroless plating, passivation, powder coating, hot blackening.

Example of different finishes of aluminum is shown below

Similarly, powder coating can totally change the look of the product.

Plastics

The plastic products are usually mass-produced and aim to eliminate post-processing operations. Two common types of finishes in plastics are matte and glossy finishes.

A combination of matte and glossy finish can be used for effective branding.

This is usually achieved by EDM processing on mold.

Luckily, injection molding finish options are nowhere as numerous as the choice of colors for resins. The most basic finish designators are SPI (Society of Plastic Industry) standards.

B-1 is the most common, no-frills cosmetic surface finish and C-1 is typically for non-cosmetic internal surfaces. A-class surfaces are very expensive, and if this is a requirement, make sure that the tool steel is very hard, or the mirror finish will degrade quickly. In addition to the SPI finishes, there is a myriad of in-mold texture options available. You can get anything from a brushed texture to a fake leather look.

Some examples of CMF documents for effective communication of your product aesthetics with the manufacturer are shown below...

Happy Designing!

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