Insights

Pantone's 2021 Gray and Yellow

A Year Desiring Clarity: Pantone’s Palette for 2021

2021 certainly started with a bang, not a whisper, and Pantone’s chosen colors of the year – PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray and PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating – felt like a visual depiction of the external world. January saw coronavirus numbers skyrocketing again after the holidays, an attempted coup, a disrupted election. We feel exhausted already, and the year has only just started.

Ultimate grey, a dependable, dull, sweatpant color, felt like a disappointment to some and like a stable anchor for others. With the pandemic stretching before us, grey feels like a reflection of our collective mood, forever waiting and non-committal. It can feel all-enveloping, both comforting and miserable, like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.

But grey can also be the color of cosy rainy days, of gravity blankets that soothe our troubled minds. Grey is the color of sidewalks and keeping our feet on the ground. It’s the color of stonework, of steadiness, of reliability. It’s a silvery color like you find in lavender plants. Ultimate grey, in particular, is a lighter grey, a midtone grey, not too warm and not too cool. It’s neutral, and sometimes that’s really relaxing.

Get Other Cool Color Combos

Looking for other dramatic color contrasts? Here’s three tools to use:
  • Coolors: This is a fun and increasingly robust tool for palette generation. Output or integrate in nearly limitless ways, this is a smart project from a focused developer interested in providing you some palette fun!
  • Adobe Color: Over the years, this project from the software giant has had many iterations. With the launch of their cloud-based-Suite, the integration works well for Adobe users as well as the casual users.
  • Material Palette: The interface is fun, the information helpful and easy to use while building a project. Even if you don’t have a final product in mind, flipping through the combinations promises some great ideas.

Illuminating, on the other hand, is a bright, cheerful yellow that invokes the sun, early spring daffodils, and smiley faces. It’s not a rich yellow, like an egg yolk or a buttercup. It’s a light, effervescent yellow. It’s optimistic, and full of energy. Use too much and it may invoke anxiety – perhaps that’s why it’s also the color of sun-weathered caution tape. But it’s a color that brightens anything it touches, the color of lemon skin and summer coming at last.

Pantone Color Institute’s Executive Director Leatrice Eiseman encourages us to think of this as looking for hope when she shares, “We need to feel that everything is going to get brighter – this is essential to the human spirit.” She’s right, but I want to add a second dimension to the pairing.

It’s the perfect metaphor for our time: together, these colors become something more than they are alone. Yes, there are clouds, but there is also the sun peeking through. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. This feeling isn’t endless, and we’re beginning to hope again. Sure, a cloudy day can feel depressing, but plants need the rain to grow. And while too much light can feel blinding and overwhelming, it’s a welcome change of pace when juxtaposed with the monotony of grey. Use the grey as a base, a stabilizing factor, and the yellow as a refreshing highlight that spices your designs up.

Together, there is balance… and isn’t that really what we need in these tumultuous times?

By Shane Lukas, Creative Strategist for A Great Idea