Bang the drums and sound the trumpets! Pantone’s 2018 Color of the Year is officially live today, and it’s Pantone 18-3838 Ultra Violet. A blue-shifted purple, Pantone describes the color as “provocative and thoughtful,” noting it “communicates originality, ingenuity, and visionary thinking that points us towards the future.”
Colors-of-the-year announcements interest me intensely, as perhaps they interest you, dear readers. Part bald-faced marketing gimmick, part Internet chat-fodder for the visual classes, part enjoyable hate-read for naysayers, it’s easy to write off these announcements as silly. And yet: colors of the year (COTY) are undeniably effective at achieving their stated purpose, which is catalyzing public conversation around color. Pantone may not have invented the COTY concept—paint manufacturer Pratt & Lambert claims their program dates to 1996. But they did take color of the year mainstream in 1999, when Pantone named Cerulean (Pantone 15-4020 TC) as both color of the year 2000 and the new millennium. Since then, Pantone has remained the global color-prognosticating gorilla with undeniable influence over the color palettes of everything in fashion, interiors, graphic design and products. Whether you like the newest annual shade or not, you will bump into it constantly during the year to come—and designers would do well to wrap their minds around a color this pervasive in global culture.
Ultra Violet is “multi-faceted,” says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute and author of numerous color books, including most recently The Complete Color Harmony, Pantone Edition. “It’s a little complicated, which we feel is one of [the color’s] appeals. It’s not easy, not chili pepper red and all hot and dancy.” It’s this complexity that Eiseman believes will attract designers to the color: “Designers invariably get purples,” she says. “You talk to people on the street, though, and they’re more skeptical. That’s why we think designers will like it: you do have to have a conversation about” Ultra Violet and its uses.
Ultra Violet appeals on several levels, according to Eiseman. Its flashiest top-note, if you will, is how Ultra Violet evokes the future. “It’s a representative color of the cosmos, but it’s more about creative inspiration and what lies beyond where we are now,” Eiseman remarks. “It’s symbolic. It’s not just the color of the cosmos, it’s the intrigue that lies within that cosmos.” It seems a fitting shade for our era of self-driving cars, artificial intelligence and commercial space travel—all imaginative, even audacious pursuits of technology edged with ambivalence. Innovations as far-reaching as these demand some thoughtfulness amid acceleration. “It’s as much about the name [Ultra Violet] as the color” itself, she continues. Ultra Violet is not actually a visible color, although its potent effects are both tangible and damaging (think skin cancer). “Does the color lie at the edge of actual sight? Yes, it resides within our imagination, speaks to us of something futuristic,” Eiseman says. In other words: beauty is rarely fangless, or wholly safe.
Ultra Violet is also a “symbol of artistic brilliance,” Eiseman adds. “Creative people who have been attracted to this color in music aren’t the usual types.” Ultra Violet also “speaks to contemplation”, she continues. “There’s a quiet thoughtfulness underlying the color.” Similarly, this purple is the color of many antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables now trending on dinner plates globally.
Playing the curmudgeon, I ask Eiseman: what about those who’ll inevitably call Ultra Violet the color of Barney? She rallies: “To say that, you’d have to be old enough to remember Barney!” She laughs and continues: “You always get the naysayers. Colors are so highly emotional. Things that happen in our lives very often have a color attached. Maybe you fell off a tricycle as a child, broke your arm, and the bike happened to be that purple. The color becomes [associated with] your vehicle of disaster.” As Eiseman and I have discussed on numerous occasions now, colors of the year aren’t meant as dictates from on high, although they do tend to infiltrate the designed world and color choices in products. Conspiracy theorists can enjoy their crankiness, but the rest of us are invited to a lively, opinionated color conversation.
Eiseman thinks designers will find working with this shade rewarding: “Perhaps the most fantastic thing about Ultra Violet is combining it with other colors,” she says. “It’s not same-old, same-old, in its color combos.” Ultra Violet pairs well with Greenery, last year’s Pantone color—so, no need to toss all your year-old throw pillows. One of Pantone’s innovations in 2018 will be selling limited-edition guides to help designers work Ultra Violet more effectively into their color palettes. The Ultra Violet-shaded future, it seems, will be also merchandized. In a similar vein, Pantone has also teamed up with Saatchi Art to commission a series of limited-edition artist prints inspired by Ultra Violet.
Pungent conversation always entails debate and riskiness—so I’ll hazard my own opinion to get this conversation rolling. I haven’t always been a believer in Pantone’s COTY choices—hello, yucky Marsala—but I dig Ultra Violet. Pantone’s reasoning in choosing this shade seems spot-on. The color’s prevalence in culture is already evident but not something you’d likely spot on your own. Most importantly, Ultra Violet’s resonance with this cultural moment feels right, even necessary. Pantone has always claimed its COTY is not merely an exercise in trend-spotting, but also a color-harbinger of qualities we crave as a culture. I’m keen for a healthy dose of Ultra Violet—and will stay ready with the sunscreen when it’s time to move on.
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