Pantone was under a lot of pressure to choose the right color of the year for 2021, following a year that will go down in infamy for the global health pandemic, political unrest, and an economic downturn among the topics rocking the world and bringing life as previously enjoyed to a locked-down halt. There were mixed reviews of the 2020 color of the year selection, Classic Blue. Critics felt a green color would have been more appropriate, suggesting a return to nature, focus on environmental preservation, and provide a more positive message than the sultry blue hue.
Ultimately, Pantone settled on two colors to “help people ‘fortify themselves with energy, clarity and hope,’” understanding that 2021 will be a year of rebuilding and continued uncertainty. Illuminating and Ultimate Gray are two seemingly opposing colors, each with their own effectual qualities in color psychology.
Illuminating was chosen as an “optimistic” hue; a bright sunshine yellow that promotes feelings of hope for tomorrow. Color psychology touts yellow as a hue that engages the mind and enhances happiness, enthusiasm and creativity. Conversely, Ultimate Gray represents dependability and a strong foundational fortitude. Rooted in the color of stone found in nature that weathers the test of time, Ultimate Gray reinforces feelings of composure, steadiness and resilience. Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute described the union as “Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic … a color combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted; this is essential to the human spirit.”
Pantone was clearly on to something with their selections for 2021. De Brouckére Station in Brussels, Belgium recently completed renovation on a high-traffic area filled with shops in these very hues. Underground transit stations can feel dark and bleak, so designers used a sunny yellow CeramicSteel wall cladding to bring a burst of joy and whimsy to the dark corridors. Other spaces use neutral gray panels to complement the brightness of the yellow, toning down the “loud” color and maintaining a balance within the space. By screen printing these decorative wall graphics onto a durable, lasting CeramicSteel surface, it can be inferred that designers were really going for an undertone of hope, reliability and endurance behind this renovation.
Illuminating and Ultimate Gray may invoke different emotions separately, one of energetic optimism and hope, the other of strength and calm; but together they create a balanced, well-grounded positivity anticipating good things to come. And that’s something we can all look forward to.