And the Color of the Year is…

As a lifer in the design business, I have been a Pantone enthusiast from the start. I was as enamored with the color decks right out of school as I am today, and yes I even considered a PMS black box tat on my forearm around the time I launched my own agency. Pantone has been an integral piece of my professional world from the get-go, and there is no doubt that Pantone has created a major business around being the color authority. Trend forecasting is important for any business that relies on color as part of their sell. But seriously, what gives with all the hype building up to the “Color of the Year”? This unveiling has seemingly increased proportionately with the growth of social media. No big surprise there, but from the purely analytical or psychological POV, why is it so consuming to so many designers now? What has changed? 

A little history is in order. Pantone first began in the 1950s. Its original purpose was to standardize a color system so that regardless of where or how you printed something, there was consistency across the board. Brilliant. As any designer knows, yellow is not just yellow. This standardization extended to process color as well, or CMYK. The CMYK process is a method of printing using four colors- cyan, magenta, yellow and black to build many colors with overlaying dots. Think comic books. The Pantone system also helped create a matching system for Pantone colors to CMYK colors. As a side note, many of the Pantone colors cannot be simulated with CMYK. Pantone colors are described by PMS and their allocated number. For example, PMS 185 (a fabulous shade of red.) This is where the cult like status begins.

Designers love these little boxes of color and their correlating numbers. We always have. In 2000, the Pantone Color Institute declared a particular “Color of the Year.” It’s quite the to-do. Apparently twice a year they host a secret meeting of the top brass in the world of color to determine the following year’s color. And let the marketing hype begin. Apparently, it has worked if their Instagram posts are anything to go off of. Not only is a color chosen, but it is accompanied by a deep emotional dialogue of why this color was chosen. Was it uplifting for the times, well shit that would be every year lately, or did it represent the need for our world to turn to a greener lifestyle? It gives Sephora an opportunity to match a lipstick or eyeshadow and build off that hype. It allows for all sorts of partnerships in fact; fabrics, furniture, makeup. Color of the year is good for business.

So fellow designers…
how do you feel about this? 

I love color. I’ve talked about color over and over, and how important it is to me in my particular style. Am I influenced by a COTY? Not slightly. Does it make me want to buy a new sweater in it? Not really. Is it even a little bit important to my work? Nope. Yet I read the replies to the Pantone posts and I marvel at how many people are titillated and just dying to know what the 2020 color will be. I don’t get it. Please help me with this.

I agree that color trend is important, and it does drive numerous industries. This is not in question. SO perhaps the COTY is to maintain brand awareness within the design industry. I’ll buy that, but I would be hard pressed to believe that a young fledgling designer can pop out of school and NOT have awareness around Pantone. I’m certain that brand awareness among all designers is very high. We all know about Pantone, and we love you regardless of your reasons for developing a COTY. However, there is more to design color choices than this.

I would encourage any designer out there to consider what trends are doing year to year, but to maintain a sense of self with your design, and color is an important element of this. It may just be that Living Coral is not appropriate to your client’s project. Look at the bigger picture and need. Be aware, but don’t be influenced. Be brilliant and bold, but be original and perhaps who knows, you might influence the next trend.

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