What Pantone's Color of the Year Tells Us About the Global Mood

Pantone, the company that was founded to create color consistency across design industries, made Ultra Violet—a popping, blue-based purple hue—it’s 2018 Color of the Year. Leatrice Eiseman, Pantone’s Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, explains that they chose the color because we’re “living in a time that requires inventiveness and imagination” and that Ultra Violet “lights the way to what is yet to come.”

  Image source:  Pantone

Image source: Pantone

As Architectural Digest notes, the process for selecting a Pantone Color of the Year is hardly a scientific one. Rather, it’s the result of a qualitative approach intended to reflect our current global mood. What, then, does the selection of Ultra Violet tell us about the current thoughts, emotions, and sentiment of humans across the world?

The Power of Purple

Pantone has an incredible amount of power to influence design trends when it selects its color of the year. In addition to partnerships with brands like Lowes and Sephora, Pantone is seen as the authority on color in the design world—the company’s choices and preferences carry a lot of weight. That means that once a color is selected, it quickly trends across design industries. However, Pantone doesn’t just pick an arbitrary color—there’s plenty of thought and analysis that goes into choosing a color that’s relevant to the current moment. “'The Pantone Color of the Year has come to mean so much more than ‘what’s trending’ in the world of design; it’s truly a reflection of what’s needed in our world today” said Laurie Pressman, Vice President of the Pantone Color Institute. According to Color of the Year announcement, Pantone believes that "Ultra Violet communicates originality, ingenuity, and visionary thinking that points us toward the future."

  Image source:  Design Milk

Image source: Design Milk

But why select a hue, now seen everywhere from graphic design to interior decoration -- that is so future-oriented? Why does Pantone believe that the world needs this particular color today? One interpretation might be that the selection reflects the turmoil the world has been experiencing in recent years - and the power and hope of new and inventive solutions to usher in a better future.

Hope in the Dark

Originally published in 2004 and updated in 2016, Hope in the Dark is activist author Rebecca Solnit’s explorations into the idea that light can creep in around the edges and through the cracks of the darkest times. “To hope is to give yourself to the future,” Solnit muses, “and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

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For Solnit, the link between light and dark, hope and despair, and the present and the future is inextricable—a look towards the future is inherently an examination of the present and how it can be improved moving forward. If we follow Solnit’s line of thinking, a future-facing Pantone Color of the Year can be interpreted as a look towards a bright, new future, stemming from a dissatisfaction with what’s going on around us at the moment.

A future-facing Pantone Color of the Year can be interpreted as a look towards a bright, new future, stemming from a dissatisfaction with what’s going on around us at the moment.

There’s plenty to be frustrated with: from the end of the free internet as we know it with the abolition of net neutrality to the separation of families at our southern border to Brexit in the U.K., the world is in no short supply of darkness. Although the darker side of things may be top of mind though, there’s still plenty of light to go around. Oprah.com featured 11 health care practitioners making a difference earlier this year and an entire Thai soccer team was just rescued from a cave thanks to the adept efforts of rescuers.  

It’s the challenges of the present that force us to look collectively at the future and decide together what that should look like. As the contemplation-inspiring Ultra Violet encourages us to challenge the status quo the same way that Prince, the artist who will forever be inseparable from the color purple, did, its ubiquitous presence in current design trends tells us that we’re in a space of transition—and it’s perhaps time to make some thoughtful and deeply intentional decisions about what we want our future to be.