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Why ‘Illuminating’ yellow and ‘Ultimate Gray’ are Pantone 2021 Colour(s) of the Year

Lounge speaks to a colour theorist to understand the decision behind this choice, and how they will impact our lifestyle globally

“Illuminating” yellow and “Ultimate Gray” are Pantone's 2021 Colour of the Year
“Illuminating” yellow and “Ultimate Gray” are Pantone's 2021 Colour of the Year (Pantone)

Pantone’s choice for Colour of the Year in 2020, Classic Blue, was prescient as it became a symbol of resilience by being reflected in the colour of the masks and scrubs worn around the world by medical personnel fighting a million battles against covid-19.

In what seems to be mindful decision this time around, the colour institute announced that the yellow shade “Illuminating” and “Ultimate Gray” are its 2021 Colours of the Year. The shades, from seemingly different parts of the colour wheel, represent a balance of dependability and positivity for the year ahead, two ideals the world could use at the moment.

In a statement released yesterday, the institute described the choice as “a marriage of color conveying a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting.” Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, said, “The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with (the) vibrant yellow Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude. Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a colour combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted; this is essential to the human spirit.”

In the 22 years that Pantone has been choosing a colour of the year, this is only the second time that two colours have been selected. The first time was in 2015, when Rose Quartz and Serenity were chosen for 2016. While the shades that year were meant to work as a singular blend, this combination intends for the colours to stand as their own entities, working with each other, side by side.

About the announcement, Navdeep Kaur, founder at colour research and design consulting agency The Colour Workshop, says, “When two colour choices are announced like this, it also represents the bipolarity of our thought processes. On one side are people who aren’t feeling good about anything at the moment, but on the other, people are optimistic about overcoming the world’s current problems, no matter what.”

Pantone’s guiding of the conversation on colour therapy feels like a step in the right direction this year. “In their ecosystem, people are bound to follow their voice with trust, because somewhere people connect with them emotionally, even though it seems just like smart marketing,” Kaur says.

Given how people have been looking for some cheer and for anything that will contribute to their "happy quotient" this year, the choice for ‘Illuminating’ doesn’t come as a surprise. With ‘Ultimate Gray’, the institute wants to reach out to people who are also not in their happiest state of mind. “The institute doesn’t want to be irrelevant to such people. The colours and their balance are also symbolic of people’s mental health concerns during this time, a testing time for many people.”

Kaur feels that the duality of colours is a global phenomenon, and will even filter into the lives of people in India, where bright and bold colours have always reigned. “The emotions, like bittersweet or khatta-mithha, are so universal that they define life everywhere, effortlessly.”

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