The Problem with Colours of the Year

Comment on Pantone Color of the Year: Classic Blue 19-4052. Has Pantone played it too safe after several suboptimal choices? What does it imply when the world’s most known colour authority chooses a classic, low-key colour to mark the beginning of a new decade?

As 2019 approaches its end, many brands announce their colour of the year for 2020. Pantone’s is the most anticipated from interior to graphic and fashion design. Without a doubt, their forecasts have a global impact, due to immense marketing campaigns and reposts. But does most known mean most insightful?

Despite Pantone underpinning their colours with valid reasoning, I would not recommend blindly following the advice. It hugely depends on the market businesses are operating in and what they want to achieve. An overarching colour of the year is usually not specific enough.

Pantone selected colours have often been less successful than expected. Reasons were manifold: Usability was too limited (eg Living Coral 2019) or the nuance did not represent the message (eg Greenery 2017). In contrast, Marsala (2015) as well as the pairing Rose Quartz & Serenity (2016) remain influential, due to their suitability as key and supporting colours in various lighting conditions.

As a colour consultant, I analyse and predict the shift of colour preferences due to global events, behavioural/cultural trends, etc. We live in challenging times, where many are constantly overwhelmed. Pantone’s Classic Blue radiates security and familiarity. You don’t have to study colour psychology to know that blue is the most popular colour worldwide. When longevity is a decisive factor, then unobtrusive nuances generally sell best. But safe/classic isn’t specific to any one year. However, is that what we expect of a colour of the year?

I question such simplified colour trends. Every colour has many meanings; it’s the combinations that provide context. For this reason, I select several key colours each season – from subtle to bolder. This ensures adaptability to various consumer groups and products. Our world is too faceted for one colour of the year. For a new decade, I believe there is space for contemporary lasting shades and excitement for innovation.