Color Wunderkammer: Color Facts, News and Trends for Fall 2017

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[Call for Entries: The International Design Awards]

Under a Blood Red Sky by Ian Sane

Under a Blood Red Sky by Ian Sane:

Greetings, color fans! As summer reaches its last ebb, I’m getting fired up for cozy sweaters, chill-edged breezes and brilliant scarlet leaves crunching underfoot. Here are the latest color facts, news and trends to tide you over until s’mores season.

The Pantone Color Institute recently teamed up with Prince’s estate to issue “Love Symbol #2”, an iconic purple shade synonymous with the star of Purple Rain. While that clunker-film is questionable to memorialize, Prince’s gender-bending style and outsized musical talent deserve full-throated tribute. That said, the announcement seems perfectly timed to compete with shark-attack tales and other slow-news-month fodder. In an amusing coda, Prince’s sister told various media his favorite color was orange, not purple.

Pantone Chip Prince Purple

Pantone Chip in Prince Purple

Cheerios lost a legal battle to lay exclusive claim to its signature yellow in its category, breakfast cereals. A judge ruling for the U.S. trademark court office noted that many breakfast cereals have similarly iconic yellow packaging—Kellogg’s Corn Pops and Post’s Honey Comb, to name only the biggest brands. Cheerios itself diluted its own claim with sub-brands packaged in different shades—witness the damning rust-red packaging of Honey Nut Cheerios.


The back cover of a 1980s Cheerios cookbook pamphlet, by Nate Steiner:

Here’s a bruising takeaways from Hurricane Harvey for those of us watching aghast at a distance: rain levels have been so severe, meterologists were compelled to introduce new shades to the color-coded map indicating rainfall.

Hurricane Harvey color map

But not all the color-news is dispiriting. Onward to more cheerful stuff. For instance, whitespace is back in editorial design, according to The Cut’s editor-in-chief Stella Bigbee whose redesign makes ample—and sternly elegant—use of this dictum. As she told AIGA Eye on Design, the new B&W-heavy design will feel boring to some, perfectly trimmed—indeed, well-cut—to others. Great minimalism emphasizes strong choices—and white space gives us all much-needed breathing room. Hurrahs all around, I say.


When you next sit down to hammer out a new color palette, graphic designers will dig Canva’s color palette generator. This handy tool jump-starts the process: enter a color, get a few basic shades, then click to start generating color palettes of four colors each around that shade. Each palette comes complete with a name and sample photo, nudging your into further imagining of how that palette might come fully to life in your project.

And for your color-fiddling pleasure during coffee breaks, you’ll love this Buzzfeed game Can You Spot the Odd Colour?, which tests the acuity of one’s color vision with increasingly hard-to-spot gradations in shaded patterns like this one.

Sample from Buzzfeed game Can You Spot the Odd Colour?

Sample from Buzzfeed game Can You Spot the Odd Colour?

Let’s close today’s Wunderkammer with a beautiful, weird essay from Aeon about the Greeks’ famously unreliable descriptions of color—think Homer’s “wine-dark” sea. This essay treads over familiar ground covered in my own book, ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color, about how color perception goes way beyond simple characteristics like hue, saturation or value. The author refers to this perceptive, super-subjective quality of color as saliency, how much the color registers as color with a given viewer. The essay also explores fascinating alternative ways of seeing color: how certain cultures and historical periods noticed properties like matteness or shine before noticing what we’d term “color.” Open your mind and feed it this lovely, eye-opening text today.

Color theory for designers