Ultimate Gray and Illuminating? It sounds like the sunshine warming up a long stretch of tarmac road, a superhero and his nemesis or a dark cloud highlighted by the sunshine behind it. And maybe that’s what Pantone were trying to achieve? After 2020, perhaps they were looking forward to 2021 as the sun beginning to illuminate from the dark clouds that have shadowed us for nearly a year?
For only the second time in Pantone’s Colour of the Year history, they have chosen to go with two shades – Ultimate Gray and Illuminating.
Pantone explained why they chose these colours.
“As people look for ways to fortify themselves with energy, clarity, and hope to overcome the continuing uncertainty, spirited and emboldening shades satisfy our quest for vitality. Pantone Illuminating is a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity, a warming yellow shade imbued with solar power. Pantone Ultimate Gray is emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation.”
As usual, there were plenty of people expressing their feelings towards these two colours and most have looked upon them unfavourably. Comparing them collectively to road markings and Hi-Viz vests, wouldn’t Pantone have been better placed to have chosen one or the other? Going for a grey shade might have seemed a bit lacklustre, but I think it would have made a bold statement saying, yes! Everything is a bit meh! at the moment.
Vogue have called the colour choices Really Weird and one of my favourite quotes from Design Consultant and TV presenter Michelle Ogundehin is “What I see is a bog-standard grey – described accurately as “practical and rock solid” paired with a pretty unapologetic yellow that recalls Mr Happy (from the Mr Men series)”
The colour for 2019 was Classic Blue, did we see it being used more on the high street and in our homes? It is hard to predict because blue has always been such a prominent shade anyway. I would say I saw more people shift away from this colour this year and turn towards green. A wonderful colour for nature, nurture, peace and reassurance.
Grey (Gray) has been around for what feels like decades now and it doesn’t really show any signs of going away. It is a great neutral to use in the home and I can see why it is still so hugely popular, but hardly ground-breaking. It is almost non-committal, a mixture of black and white and for those people who want to keeps things monochromatic.
Illuminating is described as a bright and cheerful yellow sparkling with vivacity; a warming yellow shade imbued with solar power. A yellow shade has only been chosen once before by Pantone when they went for Mimosa back in 2009.
When we think of yellow, we automatically think of sunshine and hot summer days, dandelions and daffodils swaying in the Spring time breeze. But yellow can also symbolise madness, illness, cowardice and induce anxiety. It can overstimulate the senses and make you feel irritable.
Although illuminating on itself would be a bit much to use on its own, this bright yellow is perfect for people who don’t want to move away from grey shades but want to add a dash of colour in their homes.
Ultimate Gray and Illuminating together
I’m not a huge fan of using grey and yellow together. I find that grey is the perfect neutral that shrouds us in calmness whereas yellow shouts “here I am!” and when I am designing a room, I really want it to be one or the other. I find it a slightly dated colour combination that was used heavily in the 70s with geometric prints.
However, I think yellow can be used as a little pop of colour in a room and the grey will help to counterbalance it.
I feel pantone have cheated somewhat by choosing these two colours. Nobody could have ever predicted how 2020 would have turned out, so by using grey and yellow shades as their colours of the year, they have hedged their bets.
One could argue that yellow and grey are complete contrasts of one another. Although grey is a neutral, it can make you feel sluggish and bring a sense of doom and gloom. Yellow is that cheerful, upbeat shade that can inspire happiness and optimism. So, either way, they could potentially symbolise 2021 accurately. Let’s hope for all our sakes it is the latter.