Our World, Presented in Pantone

The World Leader in Color Influences Culture

Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky once said, “Color is a power which directly influences the soul.” That’s heady stuff. And whether or not it influences our souls, it definitely has an impact on us. Take a look around. Color is everywhere, affecting your thoughts and feelings. And who knows color better than Pantone, “the global color authority and provider of professional color standards for the design industries”?

No matter how evocative color is, part of its allure lies in mathematics. Well, maybe not math per se, but definitely numbers. Numbers are extremely important in color matching.

The thought behind color matching was the idea of Lawrence Herbert, who in the 1960s was the owner of the Pantone printing company. Interestingly enough, the idea came from pantyhose, according to Pagan Kennedy’s 2013 New York Times article “Who Made That Pantone Chip?” The problem was that companies used different terms to describe beige. And worse than that, they never knew exactly the shade of beige they were going to get.

Does color affect the soul, as Kandinsky suggested?

This is when Herbert realized that he could solve the problem with numbers. “If somebody in New York wanted something printed in Tokyo, they would simply open up the book and say, ‘Give me Pantone 123,’” he told Kennedy. This meant that “123 (a daffodil yellow) would look exactly the same the world over.”

The 1970s is really when the ball got rolling for Pantone. That’s when the company, Kennedy wrote, “was making more than a million dollars a year in licensing fees.” Herbert added, “We had a consultant who would get a committee together and find out, for example, what colors are showing up in Milan, what colors are showing up in Paris.”

And that “consultant” has grown into an entire synergistic combination of color, fashion and culture. The colors affect fashion, and vice versa. It can’t be a coincidence that there are dominant colors during fashion shows, colors that eventually seep into every aspect of the sales and marketing of fashion.

This only makes sense because, as Pantone says on its website, “one of the first decisions of the day concerns color harmony.” The question of what you are going to wear for the day is based on color first. Style and fabric don’t enter the equation until you decide that you want to wear red or green or Delphinium Blue (Pantone alert! Smart Swatch 16-4159). And if you think about it (and you can’t help yourself now), “What color?” is the question that drives all decorating decisions, from your walls to your kitchen counter to your furniture.

No matter how evocative color is, part of its allure lies in mathematics.

The importance of color and its effect on us cannot be overstated. The Pantone website explains: “Red has been shown to stimulate the senses and raise the blood pressure, while blue has the opposite effect and calms the mind.” And if a company wants to use the color red, describing it as merely “red” just isn’t going to cut it. It will decide that its red will be Pompeian Red 18-1658 TCX or Lipstick Red 18-1764 TCX or Fiery Red 18-1664 TCX or … well, you get the picture.

In addition to color matching, Pantone is famous for naming its color of the year. And following on the heels of 2013 color of the year Emerald was 2014’s Radiant Orchid. In the announcement, Pantone said Radiant Orchid 18-3224 was “a captivating, magical, enigmatic purple.”

Color powers our memories, the good ones and bad ones.

“While the 2013 color of the year, Emerald, served as a symbol of growth, renewal and prosperity, Radiant Orchid reaches across the color wheel to intrigue the eye and spark the imagination,” said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. “An invitation to innovation, Radiant Orchid encourages expanded creativity and originality, which is increasingly valued in today’s society.

“An enchanting harmony of fuchsia, purple and pink undertones, Radiant Orchid inspires confidence and emanates great joy, love and health. It is a captivating purple, one that draws you in with its beguiling charm.”

And just how did Radiant Orchid become the color of the year? You can rest assured that it did not come on a whim.

Laura Rosenfeld of TechTimes.com wrote, “Pantone researches hues that it thinks will pique consumers’ visual interest in the coming year. That makes sense given that the name of the game is to find commercial success. This year’s color choice actually had a lot to do with the economy.”

In “The Money of Color,” a story in the Atlantic, Eiseman said, “Weve been concerned about the economy since 2008, about how to attract the consumer’s eye and get them to buy something new if they are counting their pennies. I know that sounds very manipulative, but this is what gets an economy to work, to get people to buy.”

The exploration for the color of the year is done months and sometimes years in advance. Researchers for Pantone look all over the world for inspiration to forecast the next big color. Eiseman pointed out to the Atlantic that they don’t “[shoot] darts at a wall of color samples.”

And once the color is chosen, its influence begins. As the Fine Furniture Design blog states, “Both Behr and Sherwin-Williams begin creating and promoting new shades of paint to match these colors. The color of the year’s influence is visible in the hues of fabrics, from the runway to your bedroom — and even to the upholstery on the comfy chair in your favorite hideaway!”

The 2012 color of the year was particularly impactful. Tangerine Tango was everywhere. In her story “Coloring Under the Influence — How Pantone’s Color System Became Fashion Law,” Alexis Ansley wrote, “This vibrant color was seen in high fashion editorials, discount clothing, on couture runways and most notably a full line of cosmetics at Sephora done in direct collaboration with Pantone named the ‘Sephora + Pantone Universe Collection.’”

Does color affect the soul, as Kandinsky suggested? Perhaps. Does it affect each and every one of us on a daily basis (whether or not we are of aware of it)? Definitely. This Ice Green matches that Ice Green, thanks to Pantone and the specific number 13-5414 TPX. But even more personal than that is how color makes us feel.

As Eiseman was quoted in “A Pantone Executive on Changing the Country’s Tone” in the New York Times, “You could say that people who live in certain areas have certain affinities. Or take someone who has blue eyes. They’ll say their favorite color is blue, because they’ll remember they got warm fuzzies when their mother dressed them in blue when they grew up. At the same time, you could have blue eyes and have loved a royal blue bicycle, or you loved it until you fell off it and broke your leg. Then you would have an aversion to that color. I remember being taken to a carnival, and the cotton candy. My eyes got as big as saucers when I saw this big foamy thing that I was allowed to eat. Of course, I got really sick. For a long time that shade of pink was something I could not tolerate.”

“Radiant Orchid inspires confidence and emanates great joy, love and health.”

Color powers our memories, the good ones and bad ones. And whether you refer to a color as Mimosa (2009 color of the year) or yellow, Chili Pepper (2006) or red, it is capable of evoking some type of emotion in each of us.

Pantone released its 2015 color of the year the week of Dec. 1, 2014. Check out Pinterest for Britton Marketing & Design Group’s take on the new color of the year.

This blog was fueled by Cyndi Lauper — True Colors on Spotify.

Chip Compton
Copywriter / Copy Editor
BMDG

Photos: BMDG Instagram and Shutterstock

Chip Compton

Chip Compton

Chip Compton has written on a variety of marketing and design topics and personalities, including Stefan Sagmeister, female creative directors, and luxury brands. His work has appeared on “Get with the Confusion,” Medium, and Pop Matters.

Meet Chip Compton