Image by Mandy Crane

Colour me post-war

Pantone has released its Colour of the Year for 2016. For the locals, we’ll call them pink and blue.

That’s right. The Colour of the Year is actually two colours. Prepare to be soothed by Rose Quartz and Serenity.

Designers everywhere are sighing, and it’s not just because these colour choices are making them sleepy. They sigh every year because what we are facing is an inevitable onslaught of this particular shade, or shades, in the case of this year.

Which is interesting, because, according to Pantone, it’s the designers themselves that help select the colour each year along with the company’s colour committee. Pantone polls designers, asking for what hues they’ve seen climbing up the colour ladder, as well as making observations themselves on field trips to design meccas such as Milan, Paris, London and Dubai.

What this means is “Marsala”, or wine-brown, had already been around the block before Pantone picked it for COY 2015. Ditto Emerald Green in 2013 and so on. Our existing familiarity with the colour makes us that much more receptive, or resistant, depending on our taste. Once we are told about the colour of the year it starts to seem like it’s everywhere.

I’m sure there’s a more scientific explanation of this but I often refer to it as the “plate of shrimp” principle, as explained so eloquently by Tracey Walters to Emilio Estevez in 1984’s classic film, “Repo Man”.

In a nutshell, or prawn shell, if you prefer, Pantone’s Rose Quartz and Serenity have already been creeping up on us. It’s just that some people are more observant than others.

Some people are also more tipped off. The Wall Street Journal reported Keurig (coffee machines) and Sephora (cosmetics), among other companies, received sneak previews of the colours this year in order to get their new lines in tune with the times.

This means before long you’ll see Kitchenaid mixers and other top-end appliances in either the rose or blue shades. Expect to see it in men’s and women’s fashions — but not children’s lines. As the WSJ article says, Rose Quartz is not a little girl shade. In fact, when I did a Google image search just now, most of the objects looked like this.

Yes, Rose Quartz is an anime character. There’s also a Princess Serenity. Guess her colour theme. Why didn’t you just go there, Pantone?

In addition to what colours we’re seeing, Pantone chooses its COY on what we’re feeling. This coming year, Pantone predicts we’ll be wanting shades that bring us reassurance, stability, comfort and equality. The flowy, flowery images accompanying Pantone’s announcement show one colour blending seamlessly into the next, just like an early morning sky. A new dawn. Hope.

Also known as hexidecimal #ffffff.

And with a little creative juxtaposition, we have this.

I’m not inferring any horrible, recent events have anything to do with Pantone, Paris or Facebook. I’m trying to show connections — our connections to colours and our connections between colour and emotions. Once we hear or see something, we become familiar with it and then start to see it everywhere. We resonate with it. Our feelings may be positive — the colour could evoke strong emotions of peace, love or happiness. Or our reaction to a colour could be negative — perhaps the hue resembles a colour of your ex-partner’s car, or an ugly Christmas sweater.

If you’re really into colour, you might like one of these quizzes. But first answer this question: What are so many colour pages so poorly designed?

Color quiz 1 Color quiz 2 Color quiz 3

Hexi #7FFFD4

Warning: These quizzes are highly addictive and sometimes you end up with personality swatches that defy Pantone identifiers. Today I’m apparently aquamarine. Whatever.

Back to Rose Quartz and Serenity: another thing we have to acknowledge with the Colour of the Year is each December we are expected to throw out last year’s colour the same way we toss last week’s bread. Colours become dated, particularly these days when colours become internationally recognised at an interstellar rate. As they say, change is constant.

Compare this to mid-century design when things moved a little slower and we had a full decade of Harvest Gold, Burnt Orange and Avocado Green. These are forever engrained in our colour memory in terms of the kitchen in “The Brady Bunch”.

Growing up, every kid I knew had a mom with a kitchen in at least one of these colours. Ours was Harvest Gold. My mom loved this autumnal mix so much she used it for my first-ever Christmas. I was the only kid I knew who had to grow up with an Avocado and Burnt Orange Christmas stocking. This was horrific for a colour-minded kid like me, especially in the 1980s when everything was fluoro, electric blue and magenta.

When I asked the lucky guy who lives with me what came to mind today when I whispered “Rose Quartz” or “Serenity” to him, first he surprised me by quoting the Wall Street Journal article previously mentioned, then he told me about his parents’ house in the 1950s.

This is exemplified beautifully by the impeccable Myrna Loy in 1948’s “Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House”. Imagine what Mrs Blandings could have done with a Pantone colour chart!

Pantone has noticed that, collectively, we’ve moved from the brighter, more energetic, colours earlier in the 21st Century to a need for these calming hues. It makes sense as America rebuilt itself and waved flags of Pantone COY 2002 True Red, with white and blue, post 9/11. Further down the colour timeline we saw the world gradually spend itself into the red, portrayed perfectly with COY 2007’s Chili Pepper, the colour of the GFC . After this, we had a period of reflection (COY 2008 Blue Iris) before looking on the bright side (COY 2009 Mimosa).

This year, all Pantone is doing is a colour version of the tea towel.

Illustration by Mandy Crane

As for me, hearing “Serenity” always makes me think of this, from the iconic Australian film, “The Castle”:

Enjoy the serenity. Carry on, Pantone!

Mandy Crane is a journalism lecturer at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. She’s previously worked at Fairfax Media, RMIT University and Indiana University. Her interests are typography, design and keeping a job. Follow her on Instagram @melbamandy

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