Color of the Year, Does it really matter?

by Paul D'Alessandro on December 9, 2009

I will never forget an interaction with one particular senior executive.  His company’s experience “center of gravity” was an annual conference where they met, shared and generally had fun with what they called their “members”.  It was a great experience and the mere thought of it created customer lifetime value that was unmatched in the industry.  However, this particular company yearned for more frequent interaction with its “members”.  So as the internet became vogue, they decided to make a foray into the new space.  They were smart about it on most fronts.  They sought out interactivity long before the days of Web 2.0.  However when it came to color this particular senior executive was insistent on a palette we had decided to name “baby puke”.  Years later I found out he was color blind and for some reason that tone was one that stood out to his challenged retinas.  Lesson learned:  color is important but how you select it is even more important.

pantone 2010 COTYEvery year in December Pantone, the self anointed world-renowned authority on color that for more than 45 years has led the exploration of color, comes out with what they call the color of the year.  While I would not subscribe to simply picking up Pantone’s color of the year and running with it for your next experience design endeavor, you can learn a lot from what they look at in the selection of said color.  From Pantone:

Turquoise inspires thoughts of soothing, tropical waters and a comforting escape from the everyday troubles of the world, while at the same time restoring our sense of wellbeing.

Basically, they are saying that as experience designers we need to look at 2010 as a year where people are looking for “relief, safe harbor and a getaway from the troubles of the world”.  Color is critical in experience design as it not only effects aesthetic or sensory response but it also transcends into our emotional cortex.  Regardless of whether you use turquoise in your experience design efforts in 2010, consider the research that Pantone has conducted to identify that people are looking for relief.  The reason and research behind the color is why it really matters.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Amaresh December 10, 2009 at 9:39 am

Paul,

Very interesting ! Do you know how they did the background research to come up with the color of the year?

That will probably be more insightful than the final answer in many cases

Paul D'Alessandro December 10, 2009 at 10:10 am

Amaresh,

The Pantone Color Institute is heavy into ethnographic study across the world to discover color trends. Leatrice Eiseman, provided some nice insight into their process in a Fortune magazine article in October, “Forecasting is a marriage of trend directions,” Eiseman says. “It’s about how many places I’m seeing a color — if it’s popping up in graphics and products. Not just on the runway.”

While there has been much debate as of late about the efficacy of ethnography, I think that Leatrice provides us some good insight into her slant on the subject. She intimates that their process is heavily tied to psychological analysis aspects. I am a firm believer that the future of ethnography is tied to behavioral economics because of the flood of information that surrounds us all. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the subject…

Trent December 15, 2009 at 7:58 am

Seeing Amaresh in the comments section made me think of the following point.

It is interesting that while everyone is moving to micro-segmentation to better understand their customers and forecast trends, Pantone stands out and states only one color for the entire world and for an entire year.

I’d be more amazed that they can actually do research globally, then boil it down to just one color. Is Turquoise the least denominated color or is it the one color that best matches its tagline of soothing, calming waters?

I’ve always looked at the color of the year as a ripple effect created by combining the diffusion of innovation bell curve with early adopters up front, and the last several years of “Color of the year”. Couture fashion won’t lag, but fashion at JC Pennys might. It can get very murky if you aren’t focused.

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