“Pantone Colour of the Year had better stay away from my electric blue”

Pantone has made a name for itself as a colour trend-setter, telling the world it knows what shade will dominate everything from fashion and packaging, to art and furniture the following year. But is it all just an ingenious marketing campaign, or does the Colour of the Year deserve creative people’s attention? Designers tell us what they really think about the annual announcement.

This week, Pantone revealed its “colour of the year” for 2019 – its annual release of a specific shade that the company predicts will infiltrate creative fields across the world over the next 12 months.

Pantone has self-proclaimed itself as a predictor of cultural trends. Every December since the year 2000, Pantone has announced its Chosen One, which then goes on to dominate news headlines as “the colour” that will sweep fashion, graphic design, packaging, furniture, products and more the following year, like some kind of prophecy for designers.

16-1546 Living Coral, Pantone Colour of the Year 2019, courtesy of Margaret Manning

Next year’s colour is Pantone 16-1546 Living Coral, an orange-peach shade that is reminiscent of actual sea coral, and looks to be “warm”, “nurturing”, “optimistic” and “natural”, a response to “the onslaught of technology and social media”, which satisfies consumers’ cravings for “human interaction” – or so Pantone says.

Orange is also the colour that has become associated with Donald Trump, synonymous with graphic interpretations of the US president. With a cynical hat on, it’s unclear whether Pantone really chose this shade for its comforting nature or instead for this topical significance, but either way, it’s questionable whether Trump’s orange face conjures “warmth” and “optimism” for many people.

Pantone collaboration with Adobe Stock, courtesy of Lindsey Noto

Pantone’s thinking behind their colour of the year is generally shrouded in mystery. The company reveals extensive analysis on its chosen shade, including how it responds to current affairs and technological shifts, and the feelings and meanings evoked by it, but does not really reveal the research process that led to how it got there in the first place.

What Pantone does say is that its colour experts “comb the world looking for new colour influences”, ranging from entertainment and film industries, art, fashion and design, to popular travel destinations, lifestyle and socio-economic issues – so, essentially, everything. This seems a bit broad for a market research study, but we’ll take their word for it.

Pantone collaboration with Butter, courtesy of Lindsey Noto

Despite scepticism around how Pantone reaches its big decision, there is no debating that the company has been hugely successful in becoming colour trend fortune tellers, with businesses heeding their advice left, right and centre. Pantone has partnered with many brands to reinforce its decisions, from ultra-violet-coloured Beats wireless headphones being released last year to coral-coloured Butter nail polish this year.

But is Pantone’s colour of the year just a brilliant marketing campaign with no substance, or has it become something that should genuinely inform creative decisions? It all comes down to whether following or bucking a trend, regardless of its authenticity, leads to commercial success. We asked designers to share their thoughts on Pantone’s colour of the year, who tell us whether they embrace or reject the contrived concept.

Jenny Theolin, owner, Studio Theolin

“I am not a huge fan of trends or trend reporting in general, because too often they’re used as a marketing tool for businesses to mindlessly shift more product. I tend to continuously keep my eye out for signals instead, inspire happenstance and do my own synthesis to propel innovative work. Trends do not show direction for me, they show the past; so it would come too late in my creative process anyway. So, no, Pantone’s colour of the year does not have an impact on my work.”

Katie Cadwallader, designer, Supple Studio

“I fell in love with the burnt orange shade of G.F Smith’s Plike paper collection a few weeks ago and immediately declared it my new favourite colour. Like most designers, I’m fickle – and can’t predict the reaction a shade or typeface will evoke in me. In the weeks since then, I’ve read an article about how Trump now ‘owns’ the colour orange and has subsequently tarnished its reputation forever. Then, Pantone decides a shade of orange will be the new (and inevitably overused) colour of the year. All of a sudden, my new favourite colour feels less special. Sharing it with so many, including He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, is not appealing in a designer’s quest for originality. I can’t help but feel like being named the ‘Pantone Colour of the Year’ is a bit of a death sentence. They had better stay away from my electric blue.”

Sam Pittman, designer, NB Studio

“It’s a campaign that year-on-year fills my newsfeed upon release. Typically, I’ve not been drawn to being guided by it. However, there was one exception this year, which was suggesting new garment colours for a clothing company we’ve been working with. They’re driven by seasons so having an awareness of colour trends has been important – but in the branding and packaging work we do, rationale wins over trend.”

Matt Baxter, co-founder and creative director, Baxter and Bailey

“Recent political events have made 48% of us see red for much of 2018, so I admire Pantone’s optimism for a rosier, pinkier, frothier 2019. I suspect, sadly, that the reality may be quite different. A long, grey slog through tortuous Brexit shenanigans will have us PMS 584 green about the gills by 29 March. That’s my prediction.

Meanwhile, I think perhaps that Pantone’s prismatic predictions are more for the benefit of Pantone than anyone else. Their annual, colourful crystal ball gazing helps to assert their position as the world authority on colour and generates column inches but doesn’t necessarily have a huge relevance to brand identity design, which – unless there’s a specific need for it to communicate a sense of currency – is more successful when it transcends trends.”

Kate Marlow, creative partner, Here Design

“The idea of having a single colour of the year has always felt slightly narrowing, as someone who relishes colour in all its hues and shades. Having said that, it’s worth reflecting on why Pantone has concluded on one specific colour to represent the upcoming year. I also respect the challenge of restricting yourself so tightly to one colour for such an incredibly vast brief: the colour of the world’s culture for the next year.

My work has never been consciously influenced by previous Pantone direction. I love deliberately trying to throw myself and my projects off kilter by searching for colour combinations that seem a little awkward; and if they are awkward, it’s probably because we aren’t used to seeing them that much, which points towards something more fresh and interesting.

Inspiration for colour choice can come from anywhere, the historical or the imaginary, and that’s what makes it magical and means the designer has a specific role to play in choosing and applying colour to their work. Our studio relies upon the unique ideas of our designers and so while the colour of the year is a well delivered Pantone campaign, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will play into any of our work.

My main concern is that now we might have a flurry of design in Living Coral – and would that really be a good thing?”

Tessa Simpson, designer, O Street

“I think the concept of a colour of the year is an interesting exercise in terms of trends and forecasting and it seems it certainly comes into play with other industries such as fashion and textiles; however, I’m not so convinced of its use as a designer.

Often, the colour palettes we work with are — and should be — informed by the brief and the purpose of the design. It’s more important to consider the longevity of a colour choice, as opposed to whether it is Pantone’s chosen colour of the year. I think we have referenced it in the past, when it was appropriate for the type of project, but often it isn’t something at the forefront of my mind when considering colour palettes.”

Jack Renwick, founder and creative director, Jack Renwick Studio

“I always find Pantone’s colour of the year useful — it helps me know what to avoid using in any work I create the following year. I don’t know anyone in the creative world who would want to follow design or colour trends; isn’t it our job to create them?

I wonder how they chose this colour? Have they got a batch load of ink they need to shift? The fact they call it ‘colour of the year 2019’ based on what’s happening in 2018 just highlights that it’s done, it’s over — move on.

This years colour’s naming, ‘Living’ Coral, makes me depressed. It shows a strong, global brand clearly acknowledging that only a healthy version of this endangered species can create this specific hue, yet doing nothing to help protect it or even raise awareness of it, which feels really irresponsible.”

What do you think of Pantone’s colour of the year concept? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • James Harper January 7, 2019 at 11:21 am

    Naturally professional designers will give Pantone’s Colour of the Year a wide berth but there’s no denying consumers will lap it up and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    I commend their commitment to a single colour when every other trend forecast presents so many colours, textures and materials that they’re really not saying anything at all but simply covering the bases / their arses.
    Living Coral would be one of my least favorite colours but it’s impact will be at the least influential level and fortunately we only have to put up with it for a year!

  • Joanne MacKie January 25, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    Interesting how they chose a color that was everywhere in bedding and furniture, even fashion 2-3 years ago! Didn’t anybody but me see it? And I thought it had hit the runway and been discarded – so naming it color of the year was at once exciting – perhaps I can get my hands on more inexpensive items (as I love the color,) and now you tell me it is associated with “him, who shall not be named,” so it’s also disturbing!

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