Every December, for the last few years, I’ve seen my colour enthusiast friends joyfully share Pantone’s colour of the year throughout social media. Fashionable, timely and quite simply just an interesting annual report to review, Pantone’s colour of the year is more than just a design industry directive or a creative piece of marketing – or is it? I spoke with Felicity’s resident graphic designer Iris Glaser and seasoned technology journalist Lawrence Cummer to hear their thoughts on Pantone’s pick of Radiant Orchid for 2014.
RS: How familiar are you with Pantone and had you heard of their Color of The Year before?
IG: I refer to my Pantone colour swatchbooks very often in my work, mostly in selecting colours for an identity system or for print. Occasionally I use Pantones in web design, more for the purpose of making sure my colours are accurate and translate properly to the web.
RS: When you are designing for clients, how do you select colors? Would something like this report potentially influence your decisions on palette or style?
IG: Of course as a graphic designer, my work is influenced by prevailing trends in colour, whether consciously or unconsciously. But: I don’t think those trends or ‘zeigeists’ truly change annually. I think colour trends in graphic design, and more broadly across various design disciplines, endure for longer than 1 year. I would say 3-5 years is a more of relevant time duration for a colour trend.
Because my work focuses on branding and identity design, my approach to colour selection is more based on values of simplicity and timelessness rather than on annual trends. So I would say that I don’t find Pantone’s annual report to be of much influence to me. Though I do find this whole colour discussion interesting, both from a visual perspective and also from the point of view of language and culture.
Colour is such a loaded territory; so much history, symbolism and meaning can be read into colour, if you’re tuned into those elements and insights. I’m not sure how many people are that attuned to the stuff behind colour choices, at least not at a conscious level.
RS: It seems like every year media is looking forward to covering this announcement. Why do you think this kind of annual program works so well for journalists?
LC: Some areas of potential news are more abstract and, as such, tend to be harder to follow and cover than, say, product-related news. Reports like the Colour of the Year offer a framework to bring design news and counsel to readers where there isn’t an easy way.
RS: Are there other examples of this kind of recurring annual reports or trend analyses that you’ve seen other brands execute well? What makes this kind of strategy work?
LC: In contractor-related news, I see similar announcements from paint manufacturers when launching their new palettes. It offers editors and writers an opportunity to frame tips for the audience that might otherwise be challenging for them—as they are often neither designers nor decorators.
In tech, data security companies similarly release annual reports and analyses that put the security landscape in perspective and, often, predict the risks of the coming year. This offers tech writers and editors a chance to nicely wrap up the major issues for their readers, help them with good advice and, again, better cover a more abstract area.
RS: When I think of Pantone, I don’t necessarily associate them with digital or web design – I was surprised to see they list other formulas (RGB, CMYK, etc.) on their site! Do you think a program like this is effectively helping to keep their brand current?
IG: Pantone’s guides all include translations to RGB, CMYK and web equivalents. I do think this program is part of an effort to keep their brand current. It’s a way of promoting its status as a design icon. For example, Pantone has a stationery set, iPhone cases and even a branded bicycle that are clever and straightforward ways to celebrate its iconic status.
RS: Are there other industries – outside of web or print design – where Pantone’s announcement might be more or less relevant?
IG: I think colour trends are important in fashion, textile and interior design.
LC: At first blush the impact of colour trends does seem to be limited to the page (whether print or digital), but colour tends to be subtly (and not so subtly) important across industries. Certainly, in my experience, it could be of value to interior designers and professionals who deal with décor, such as renovators and painters, homebuilders and real estate professionals.
RS: How do you think Pantone’s Color of The Year continues to stand out every year when other annual reports wane or never really take off in the first place?
LC: In the case of the two types of similar reports I mentioned there tends to be an abundance of them around year’s end. While this can help editors and writers–by providing them with supporting (or conflicting) trends from which to create a more complete story–it can be a bit of overload. In either case, when there’s that kind of saturation is when the strength of an organization’s brand and reputation for expertise help it rise to the top.