How to make color speak forcefully and persuasively for social action? This spring, Pantone teamed up with Academy of Art University in San Francisco to tackle this question in an unusually applied course called Color in Action. Under the guidance of the instructors, Tom Sieu and John Barretto, the students paired into eight teams, each focused on how color can elevate awareness and action on a different social theme. When the winning team is declared on May 14, they’ll earn a $10,000 scholarship from Pantone and a shot at fully realizing their concept.
Color in Action’s Facebook group details a fascinating process of ideation around color and its powers to motivate. The students spent several weeks researching their social causes, so they could build their concept on a firm factual basis and a nuanced tie-in to color. One early concept was a Pantone Re(a)d Museum to promote literacy in schools. (Presumably its copyright-questionable overlap with Gap’s Red campaign blocked the idea from advancing to the next round.)
Another proposal targeted the bullying of gay students, using the Stonewall rainbow flag to underline inclusiveness and promote resilience:
Later refinements brought the projects into clearer focus. Team Environment sought to make visible the threat of rising seawater from climate change. In their proposal, blue ribbons thread through at-risk streets in New York, Mumbai, and Shanghai, marking exactly how high waters are expected to rise in an alarmingly short time. Billboards, steps, and other physical elements of the cityscape would also be turned into material evidence of the threat:
Team Sense argued for an alternate color identity system for those with failing vision—whether colorblind or entirely blind. Articulating a Braille-like grammar of shapes corresponding to colors, the team applied this language as raised tags on clothing, educational cards, and other channels.
Perhaps the most ambitious was Team Nation, whose mandate encompassed color’s role in politics, global identity, and race relations. Riffing off of Flags by Color, a web project by Shahee Ilyas in which national flags are reduced to pie charts showing their color distribution, Team Sense explores how color unites as well as divides nations and peoples. Mobile applications and color-coded displays in public spaces show how nations locked in conflict nonetheless draw strength, courage, or nobility from the same colors. Races are similarly revealed to exist along the same color continuum.
Color is charged, no question, and a fitting catalyst for social change. Hats off to Pantone and AAU’s Color Lab for probing color’s power with thoughtfulness and insight.