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What the 2021 Color of the Year Has to Say About What’s Ahead

Every year the Pantone Color Institute, the world’s foremost color authority, chooses a Color of the Year to forecast trends in design and, at times, the world at large. 

The 2020 Color of the Year was Classic Blue; intended to serve as a “dependable and stable foundation on which to build as we cross the threshold into a new era.” And in many ways, we have had a blue year, and not always in a welcome way. The US saw a blue wave as a Democratic candidate was elected into office and the global pandemic left many feeling blue in a state of grief and isolation. 

So, what might the 2021 color have in store for us?

To the surprise of many, Pantone has selected a combination of two colors as the color of the year: Ultimate Gray and Illuminating. It’s been five years since Pantone announced Rose Quartz and Serenity as their previous double-color pick for the 2016 Color of the Year.

Ultimate Gray is a neutral mid-tone gray, reminiscent of cloudy skies and cement. In contrast, Illuminating is a vibrant sunny yellow, perhaps inspiring the hope we need to carry on after the tough year we have had. The combination is somewhat startling—next to the brightness of the yellow, the gray looks dull and unwelcoming. 

Opinions on the Color of the Year range from enthusiastic welcome to downright disdain. The combo has been humorously compared to the conceptual art piece “Comedian” by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan that caused quite a stir in 2019. “Comedian” is an artwork that is a yellow banana taped to a wall with gray duct tape, which sold for $120,000 causing outrage in the general public.

The executive director of the Pantone Color Institute explains the choice of Ultimate Gray and Illuminating as “a message of positivity supported by fortitude.” Ultimate Gray is the reliable and solid foundation on which we should build the lasting happiness of Illuminating. 

In my eyes, these colors remind us to remain hopeful but not too hopeful. Indeed, the clock striking twelve on New Year’s Day won’t magically stop the pandemic, or global warming, or economic downturn. Blind optimism doesn’t create progress. Illuminating reminds us to keep hope at the core of what we do, while Ultimate Gray tells us that plans and actions are what allow us to reach the light. 

Cheers to hope, stability, and change in 2021. May the new year be better than the last. 

Sarah Ishikawa is currently serving as Editor in Chief and Campus Correspondent for Her Campus at ICU Japan. She is a senior studying English and American literature. On her days off you'll probably find her at a museum, coffee shop, or just at home getting things done.
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