It may not surprise you that one of Pantone’s 2021 Colors of the Year is gray. And you might find it equally befitting that the stately shade of gray that’s been chosen is called Ultimate Gray. Of course it is. On the heels of one of the most stressful years in modern history—one in which staying healthy depends entirely on staying apart from one another—what other color would suffice?
But thankfully, there’s more to this color story. Pantone, which announced its two official Colors of the Year for 2021 yesterday, is also offering us gently saturated salvation from our unending grayness in the form of a pale, buttery, not-bright yellow called Illuminating.
The two hues, technically known as Pantone 17-5104 Ultimate Gray and Pantone 13-0647 Illuminating, together “create an aspirational color pairing, conjoining deeper feelings of thoughtfulness with the optimistic promise of a sunshine-filled day,” reads a prepared statement from the Pantone Institute, whose various color declarations influence creative decision makers, including designers in the jewelry, interior, home furnishing, graphic, fashion, industrial, packaging, and automobile industries, all over the world.
Every year, the Pantone Institute aims to crown colors that reflect the moods and events in our global culture. The job requires intense collective thought and research: Pantone’s color finders analyze and study films in production; traveling art collections; the works of new artists; happenings in fashion and other areas of design; popular travel destinations; new lifestyles; socioeconomic conditions; fresh technologies, materials, and textures; trends in social media visuals; and more.
“The Pantone Color of the Year reflects what is taking place in our global culture, expressing what people are looking for that color can hope to answer,” said Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, in the same statement. “As society continues to recognize color as a critical form of communication, and a way to symbolize thoughts and ideas, many designers and brands are embracing the language of color to engage and connect.”
This year’s soft gray and yellow, viewed side by side, do reflect a mix of seriousness, resolve, and tentative hope that seems fitting for this tumultuous moment—one that for many feels like the beginning of the pandemic’s end, as the first rounds of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered in the U.K. last week, and the FDA is poised to approve Pfizer’s inoculation in the U.S.
“The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude,” added Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, in the same 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.”
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