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A Color Specialist Reveals What It Takes to Design a New Line of Water Bottles

Color design expert Dawn Rae Knoth talks about the inspiration behind the colors chosen for the brand-new Strive Hydration water bottles.

13 min read

A durable, reliable water bottle isn’t just an essential tool for living. It’s a constant companion for anyone who wants to stay hydrated and healthy—humans are 60% water, after all. So the water bottle you carry around might as well look as good as you do. That’s the inspiration behind OXO’s new Strive bottle, and where Dawn Rae Knoth’s design superpower comes into play.

Knoth is a trend and color strategist who developed the palette for the OXO Hydration line—dishwasher-safe, BPA-free containers that feature interchangeable configurations of colors, lids and sizes for a custom hydration experience every time. Double-wall vacuum insulation keeps drinks hot or cold for longer, and leakproof lids and a sweat-proof coating eliminate drips and wet spots. In short: It’s the perfect place to keep your water, anywhere, anytime.

We asked Knoth what it’s like to work as a color specialist, and how she curated the beautiful shades that make up OXO’s first-ever palette of signature hues.

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What first inspired you to become a color specialist?

I’ve always had an innate love for the song that color combinations can create, and noticed how people respond emotionally to colors. [Color is] such an individual driver, and it’s so powerful what that does for a consumer’s experience with a product. It gives them joy and allows them to express themselves.

What role does color strategy play in visual storytelling for brands?

At its root, developing a strategy is about figuring out how to connect to your consumers, discovering what will resonate with them and what they’ll gravitate towards—and ultimately, what they’ll buy, come back to and be loyal to. Brand loyalty goes back to taking care of the consumer’s needs, and great design does that. But great design with great color builds a relationship where the brand is not only satisfying those needs, but satisfying what consumers really want in order to express themselves.

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What’s something surprising consumers may not know about the way a product’s color influences their buying habits?

I think there’s an assumption that people who are in my role are making it up, looking into a crystal ball, or pulling from obscure things to create color trends. People might be surprised that it’s actually the reverse: When you’re really nailing colors that your consumers love, you’ve been paying attention to who your consumer is now and extrapolating how their lifestyle is going to change over the next year or two, what their expectations are, and how those are going to shift over the next several years. What will they start to do that’s different, for example? It’s about figuring out as best as you can how they’re going to evolve, whether that’s new activities, shifts in mindset, or just how they’re organizing their daily lives.

Tell us about your inspiration for the OXO Strive color palette.

The OXO Hydration palette was designed to holistically capture the hearts of OXO’s consumers by creating a visual mood and vibe that reflects consumers’ own emotional landscapes. The colors are named after minerals and gemstones—the precious stones and natural building blocks of our earth. They’re the perfect inspiration for bottles that are both functional and beautiful accessories.

Given the stress, uncertainty and grief we have all experienced over the last few years, consumers are re-prioritizing. They are rejecting constant busyness, hustle culture and overstimulation, and embracing de-growth, slowing down, and calming, comforting experiences and environments. Each individual color within the palette was chosen with both a specific consumer in mind and a specific purpose—we wanted to appeal to the consumer who’s not looking to be flashy.

The range of colors is gender-inclusive and attractive to different demographics. It represents a variety of values—light tones, dark tones and mid-tones to add visual energy to the collection as a whole. I observed how color trends were shifting, and made sure we had a wide range of color families represented. It was also important to make sure all the colors looked great together and created a vibe. Each has a mood, a sense of movement or energy, but each color holds its own individually as well.

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How did you decide on some of the specific colors in the line?

It was key to determine neutrals first. Black/Onyx and White/Quartz are solid, neutral wins, easily incorporated into consumer’s lives. Slate—my favorite color—is a handsome, warm, soft gray that’s not sterile or too cold. Jade also ties into this same “slowing down” trend. It captures our growing interest in nature. Globally, we’ve become so much more aware lately of how beneficial time in nature is and how precious natural resources are. We’re finding ways to blur that line between indoors and outdoors.

Blues are consistently top rated as people’s favorite color family, so I took inspiration from nature again. These blues [Dark Cobalt, Blue Topaz, Aquamarine] represent the restorative, grounding yet cheerful blues that consumers routinely interact with: the sky, water, natural minerals.

The two fiery tones, Terra Cotta and Garnet, are relatable, relevant, gender-inclusive colors. Despite being classic hues, these speak to very current trends. Reds and oranges are associated with action, movement, joy, expression—all emotions that consumers are yearning to express after feeling isolated, unsure and disconnected. These warm colors reflect our need for connection, our awareness of ourselves as individual beings, and our courage to survive, fight and connect.

Purples and yellows tend to rise in popularity after periods of uncertainty, for being uplifting, optimistic, and tied to spirituality, mental health and self-care, hence their incorporation into the palette. And finally, pinks have become almost a neutral, especially paler pinks like Rose Quartz. It evokes a sense of luxury, wellness, femininity and calm. Choosing to buy a product, especially a long-term purchase, in a light pink is about having an item be a reminder, however small, of indulgence, pleasure, restorative joy and softness.

The goal was to have core long-term colors that carry over year to year to establish continuity for both the brand and retailers. OXO is about being trusted companions, whether it’s in the kitchen as you prep dinner or by your side scrubbing the bathroom tile. With the breadth of color we’ve established for the Strive Hydration line, we’re going beyond that. It’s more about having a best friend.

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There are a lot of design-minded hydration vessels on the market. Color-wise, what makes OXO’s Strive bottles stand out from the competition?

When I was approaching this project, I wanted to create an array of colors through the lens of what made sense for OXO as a brand, as well as what consumers would expect and want from them. Some of these tones are softer and took more inspiration from interior design or the kitchen landscape. It’s less about being bold, fast and bright, or being outdoors or active, which I think is the place for a lot of competitors. OXO has this unique space of being more about home and finding something you really love that speaks to you for a long time.

Were there colors or names for colors you loved that didn’t make the cut?

No, and that was really interesting to me! That’s super-rare in a color process: Usually you have to pull back and lose a few colors you may personally be very attached to, but for this project it was the exact opposite. The first round of the project was to establish four core colors, and we landed on five. In the second round, we were going to add three, maybe four more colors, and ended up with four.

We wanted consumers to be able to create their own mini sub-palettes, so maybe they’d buy a bottle in one color, a tumbler in another, and a thermal mug in a third, then combine those to work really well together visually and express a mood or personality that coordinates with their interior or office space.

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How would you describe the bottle’s finish, and how did you decide on it versus something glossier or more matte?

The feel of it is so lovely, which is really important. This is going to be a product you touch and carry with you, so having a comfortable feel is key. The finish is pretty matte—any more and I’d start to worry about the ease of cleaning the exterior. A glossier finish would be veering away from OXO’s brand values and DNA.

What’s your favorite configuration of the Strive bottle?

I’m a big fan of the 20-ounce tumbler with the SimplyClean lid, and I love the Slate color. Ever since I got my first sample, this cup has lived on my desk. It’s the only cup I use. My son likes the Aquamarine bottle. He carries it to school every single day and is very proud of his mom.

What’s your favorite way to drink more water?

Having a full glass beside me at all times. I start every morning with a pint of water, then all throughout the day I have my OXO tumbler beside me.

For more tips on living your best life with OXO, check out our guide to How to Stay Hydrated.


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