The Curious Charm of Highlighter Yellow

This is exactly how many pairs of highlighter-yellow shoes I own:

My collection of yellow shoes

My collection of yellow shoes

Well, these plus the mustard-yellow flats that are too scruffy to photograph, and the short blond cowgirl boots that aren’t, strictly speaking, technicolor-yellow enough. Because “strictly speaking” really describes someone with an unguarded passion for yellow shoes.

Recently, multiple signs converged, prompting me to write about highlighter yellow. I interviewed the sculptor Jessica Stockholder for The Believer this week; her tell-tale splashes of acid colors convey almost instinctive smarts. (Another Stockholder fan: Langdon Graves, who teaches color theory for Parsons The New School of Design. Check out my Q&A with her and Thomas Bosket here.)

Jessica Stockholder work, 2003

Jessica Stockholder work, 2003, via

That morning, I woke up to a bedroom tableau. Slouching on the dresser: a sunflower-yellow purse. Hanging loosely from the dresser’s knobs: a summer cardigan in acid-yellow and straw. Draped over the closet door: a yellow-and-gray maxidress in dynamic chevrons.

I have an unapologetically serious yellow problem. Fortunately, I’m not alone.

The New York Times’ Bill Cunningham—a more elderly and lovable crank, with more universally lauded taste, than me—digs this summer’s yellows. (Also apropos: this history of the yellow highlighter’s design via the Times.) Pentagram just released a series of posters for the London 2012 Olympics that are splashed in victorious gold.

Poster by Domenic Lippa, Partner and Jeremy Kunze, Designer, via Pentagram

Poster by Domenic Lippa, partner, and Jeremy Kunze, designer, via Pentagram

Poster by Marina Willer, Partner and Ian Osborne, Designer, Pentagram:

Poster by Marina Willer, partner, and Ian Osborne, designer, Pentagram:

Vicious yellow-love is a waxing and waning tendency among designers—more often than not, waxing. It hearkens back to the Atomic Age, when uranium-yellow glassware (aka “vaseline glass”) gave a Jetsons whiff to your coffee klatsch. My pal Ian Quinn and I jointly own this uranium-glass set, pictured here on his porch in New Haven. (I wave at it lovingly on every visit, although we’re both horrified at the notion of ingesting anything contained in its noxious curves.)

Uranium glass coffee set

Uranium glass coffee set

The design blog Felt and Wire recently unearthed a Print project that included this etiquette poster by Barbara Glauber. The strong yellow really grabs you by the lapels, yet seems both frank and friendly. The fact that we’re talking Tinkle Etiquette, which makes yellow a particularly apt choice—off-color because it’s on-color, so to speak—occurs to you via delayed reaction.

Design by Barbara Glauber for Print, rediscovered via Felt and Wire:

Design by Barbara Glauber for Print, rediscovered via Felt and Wire:

Boldly chemical yellows have always been popular as a lo-fi way to give your message muscle. That may explain why yellows crop up so frequently in student works, where expensive multi-color print runs aren’t a viable choice. As Exhibit A of yellow’s power on the cheap, I give you an image from a recent Accidental Mysteries post by John Foster for Design Observer:

From Accidental Mysteries by John Foster, Design Observer:

From Accidental Mysteries by John Foster, Design Observer:

So my plea to you is simple: enable me. Let’s swap fantastic yellow imagery via my Pinterest board—here’s my collection of boards, and here’s the yellow-specific board. I would love to run the best images I receive from you cats in a future Imprint post.

Meanwhile, enjoy the strong sunlight of late summer!

Yellow Pear Tomatoes 12 by cygnus921 on Flickr:

Yellow Pear Tomatoes 12 by cygnus921 on Flickr:

You might also enjoy the Pantone Guide to Communicating with Color, now on sale at

Color & Design, Imprint: Print Magazine's Design Blog, Jude Stewart

About Jude Stewart

Jude Stewart is a PRINT contributing editor. She has written on design and culture for Slate, Fast Company, The Believer, I.D., Metropolis, and Design Observer, among many others. She has authored two books, both published by Bloomsbury: ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color (2013) and Patternalia: An Unconventional History of Polka Dots, Stripes, Plaid, Camouflage and Other Graphic Patterns (2015). Follow her tweets on color at

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