Pantone wants to cure your pandemic blues with a double hit of color

Ultimately Illuminating?
Ultimately Illuminating?
Image: Pantone
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Pantone announced today that 2021 will be all about “Ultimate Gray” and “Illuminating” yellow. This is the second time that the New Jersey based color standards company has selected two hues for its “Color of the Year” marketing blitz. Five years ago, it named Rose Quartz and Serenity blue as a nod to gender equality.

Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of Pantone’s color consulting arm, explains that the two colors in tandem, convey a message of steely optimism as we enter a new phase of the global pandemic. “The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow Illuminating  expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude,” she explained in a press statement. “Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a color combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted, this is essential to the human spirit.”

2021 Colors of the Year: PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray and PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating.
Sunshine and steel: PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating and PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray
Image: Pantone

Eiseman says studying consumer habits and working closely with brands year-round informs their work as ersatz therapists, offering a bit of chromatography to cure the world’s pandemic blues. “At the foundation of the Pantone Color Institute are the ongoing consumer color preference studies we do,” she tells Quartz. “It is through this research in conjunction with other research we deem to be credible that has helped us to glean critical color insights for our clients and helps to further feed our understanding of the psychological power and influence that color has.”

She adds that choosing two colors symbolizes the need for solidarity. “For 2021 it became abundantly clear that there is a deeper understanding of how much we need each other,” she explains. “Our connections and relationships with others give us the emotional support and fill us with gratitude.”

Pantone’s annual color prescription began in 1999, when the world was filled with anxiety over Y2K. It crowned Cerulean, a soothing blue-gray color to allay fears about the new millennium. For this unprecedented year, Eiseman says that they took a longer time deliberating and spent  several months meeting with Pantone’s 30 color trend experts stationed around the world. She clarifies that unlike other years, there’s no longer a “secret committee” that decides on the Color of the Year.

“[We] comb the world looking for new color influences,” Eiseman explains. “This can include the entertainment industry and films in production, traveling art collections and new artists, fashion, all areas of design, aspirational travel destinations, as well as new lifestyles and play styles,” she says. “Influences may also stem from new technologies, materials, textures…and even upcoming sporting events that capture worldwide attention.”

The 2021 Pantone Colors of the Year
Color match merch.
Image: Pantone

Pantone’s picks ultimately translate to consumerism. Each year, hundreds of new color-matched products—from apparel, shoes, make-up, tech gadgets—are produced according to Pantone’s color of the year selection. It works with brands to launch new products and services in conjunction with the announcement. For the release of “Ultimate Gray” and “Illuminating,” Adobe prepared a themed gallery of stock photography images and art gallery Artechouse created a gray and yellow augmented reality installation in its New York City location.

Pantone had arranged to use Artechose’s installation as a backdrop for a dramatic “Color of the Year” social media reveal tonight, but an Asian publication foiled its plans and broke the embargo.