The story of color

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Pantone’s Color of the Year selections influence design elements and product development.

March 11, 2021


In December, Pantone revealed the 2021 Color of the Year, surprising many with two colors sharing the spotlight — Ultimate Gray (Pantone 17-5104) and Illuminating (Pantone 13-0647). Pantone says it chose the pairing of gray and yellow because the two independent colors “come together to create an aspirational color pairing, conjoining deeper feelings of thoughtfulness with the optimistic promise of a sunshine filled day.”

The Pantone choices wield a lot of influence over design elements including fashion, home furnishings, industrial design and product packaging.

Illuminating is a “bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warming yellow shade imbued with solar power,” according to the Pantone color experts. Ultimate Gray is “emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation. The colors of pebbles on the beach and natural elements whose weathered appearance highlights an ability to stand the test of time, Ultimate Gray quietly assures, encouraging feelings of composure, steadiness and resilience.”

Sister Golden Hair from Proven Winners, commonly known as Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius)

The choices are practical and rock solid, says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, yet, “give us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted; this is essential to the human spirit.”

“The selection of two independent colors highlight how different elements come together to express a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting, conveying the idea that it’s not about one color or one person, it’s about more than one. The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude,” she adds.

Pantone says its Color of the Year selection process “requires thoughtful consideration and trend analysis.” Experts at the Pantone Color Institute comb the world looking for new color influences. This can include the entertainment industry and films in production, traveling art collections and new artists, fashion, all areas of design and popular travel destinations, as well as new lifestyles, playstyles and socio-economic conditions. Influences may also stem from new technologies, materials, textures and effects that impact color, relevant social media platforms and even upcoming sporting events that capture worldwide attention.

The horticulture industry offers copious choices that fit with Illuminating. “Gardeners want to have plants in these colors because who doesn’t want their plant palette to be on trend?” says Angela Treadwell-Palmer, co-founder of Plants Nouveau. “Pantone sets the trends. This year, one color is a super bright, happy yellow and the other is a neutral, warm gray. I love them both and I love them paired.”

Some of her choices for plants that match the sunny yellow of Pantone’s Illuminating are Echinacea Butterfly Cleopatra, Helenium Mariachi Sombrero and Forsythia Magical Gold. North Branch Nursery in Pemberville, Ohio, chose Moonshine yarrow for its lemon-yellow flowers and silver-gray foliage. Zeeland, Michigan-based Garden Crossings says, “yellow is one of those colors that goes with every other color in the garden.”

Sources: Pantone, Plants Nouveau, All-America Selections, North Branch Nursery, Garden Crossings