Sometimes blue is just...blue.

Why Classic Blue became Color of the Year 2020.

2020’s Color of the Year was not out of the blue

The start of the new decade marked with Pantone 19-4052 Classic Blue. It’s no coincidence that 10 years ago in 2000, Pantone named another shade of blue- Cerulean blue as its color of the year. Perhaps Pantone decided to start a new decade with another “blue-brother.” 

This article examines this year’s color and the vibes it’s giving off, the trend so far, and looks ahead towards the 2021 Color of the Year.

Why should we care?

Many color companies declare the color of the year, every year. The bigger question is how does it matter and why should we care? How can a single hue encapsulate the mood of an entire year? And how do the people who come up with the color of the year go about it?

The blue is not just … blue, it represents millions of dollars and countless jobs. Google tested 41 shades of blue for the sponsored links before deciding one. Google company executives claim this shade of blue helped increase their revenue by $200M. 

Colors have a big impact on visual artifacts that are designed, produced, and purchased in the global economy. When a customer buys a product, it is not just for utility or functionality, but there is an element of self-expression in the product that drives purchase behavior.

For a designer, applying a good color on a product, marketing material, or in an interior space is an inexpensive way to make something look fun and fresh.

Sometimes color choices can make a serious impact on the success or failure of a product.

The Bondi blue iMac of 1998 is an example of how colors can transform a business. Price and product features are not the only parameters people use to purchase designs. For designers such as myself, understanding the psychology of colors is very important. 

Our perception of colors starts with the eyes but then quickly engages multiple senses. Colors tell us where to look, how to interpret something, it puts content into context and helps us measure the degree of importance of different elements or texts.

When we see pictures of the ocean, the sound of the ocean waves can be easily imagined by the ears, the cool breeze and smell of the beach from our memory can be felt by the nose and skin. The ocean picture simply acts as a visual cue to awaken our senses. Next time if we are in front of the ocean with our eyes closed, our senses will remind the eyes that the ocean in front of us is blue. 

Our emotions, actions, and responses subconsciously can be influenced by colors. A good designer gives thoughtful consideration of what users see with their eyes, touch, and feel and does trend analysis before deciding a brand color or a product color. If a designer can take a color experience beyond just one of the five senses, it can make a much bigger impact and connection with the customers.

Color of the Year selection is backed with research and becomes trends with time. Sometimes it works and sometimes it can fail. I never liked the Marsala color back in 2015 and was unsure why it was considered by Pantone. There was no satisfying richness of a fulfilling meal in that color that Pantone claimed. It reminded people of a dull brick or a mold in the bathroom that nobody wants to clean, rather than make a connection with wine, chicken, or mushrooms.

However one needs to take Pantone seriously. It currently has 2.7M Instagram followers and designers around the world do implement their Color of the Year recommendations to create a trend.

Our culture is super-visual and we react psychologically and physiologically to inherent messages in colors. As designers, we need to keep an eye on the trends and consider rolling it in our designs to make them more relevant. The color of the year will be visible in many logo redesigns, the background of banner ads, fashion, interiors, magazines, and beyond each year.

Designers around the world do implement their Color of the Year recommendations to create a trend.

When the world zigs, zag!

Some of us might still say, so what? Pantone has got it all wrong. Being a maverick designer, it’s better to go in the opposite direction of the color spectrum and choose a bright orange complementary color instead. Or simply say, just use whatever color you want. After all, color is a subjective, unpredictable, and emotional experience influenced by culture. One cannot really quantify this personal experience buried in our subconscious. It works the same for other sensory experiences of taste, touch, smell, and sound. 

Innovators anyways don’t conform to the norm. They think differently. That's the beauty of innovation. My answer to them is that it’s okay to take risks, but be fully aware of every decision you take and the intended impact because color impacts life and business.    

User Interface designers can say that UI does not follow Pantone that closely and color of the year is mostly used for print media trends. If one looks at Dribble for the most dominant interface colors of 2019, ‘living coral’ will not be on the list (https://medium.muz.li/the-next-big-hue-pantone-living-coral-af030db9a15b). In 2019, it was blue and purple instead. Classic blue was anyways used extensively in the past and it would not be surprising if different vibrant and dull shades of this blue are used in 2020. 

Sometimes blue is just...blue. And sometimes it’s classic blue and more than a color.

The Good, the bad, and the color

Positives

The Classic Blue color reminds me of blueberries and sea. The color is dense, feels deep, thought-provoking, mysterious, and inspires strength and confidence as claimed by Pantone. It is a natural sky at dusk color. The ocean is not only the biggest habitat of life but also a mirror to our soul and mind. The color of water and sky best works for a space built to communicate, cleanliness, health, and peace. If used extensively, this same blue can create a big gap between the user and itself and becomes unfriendly.

Classic Blue is versatile, inclusive and can be used with many colors and their combinations can mean different things like strength, speed, precision, dependability, comfort or luxury whatever they want their brand to represent. It is non-aggressive, mature, and easily relatable.

The color was always trending. No real trend has been created. 

It is a popular color with corporate logos to represent stability, trustworthiness, and reliability. Large retailers, technology firms, financial institutions, and hospitals like American Express, IBM, Facebook, Walmart, Oral B, HP, Ford and Mayo Clinic typically use a shade of blue as a primary color for their brand image. Many of the large companies that have a blue logo have access to our private data and trust is an important brand attribute that blue communicates.

Blue is very accessible. Patients with the most common types of colorblindness such as Protanopia and Deuteranopia can see the color blue. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO/Founder solely made the logo blue as he too is colorblind. Any shade of blue creates an association with the sky that is limitless like our ambitions and thoughts of the mind. 

This blue has familiarity, consistency, and classic feel to it that is relatable. We all need some blue in our life to bring peace and calm within us. The color is genderless and seasonless making it more accessible to designers. It is similar to the natural indigo color giving a message of sustainability to designers. Its combination with gold color makes it truly classic and luxurious. Classic Blue becomes bold, interesting, and dramatic with a play of lights and shadows in digital interfaces or physical spaces.

Negatives

PANTONE 19-4052 Classic Blue brings a sense of peace and tranquility to the human spirit.”

I would contest what Pantone claims. 

This darker shade of blue is certainly reflective but brings with it an element of heaviness and struggle between the bright sky of the day and the dark sky of the night. If this is associated with the end of the day, there is more negativity associated with this color. It does in no way represent a promise of the return of another day. This darker shade of blue is particularly concerning. It could also be used to represent the dark side of any personality.

Classic Blue is also considered a safe and boring color by many. Maybe it is a commentary on present times where we are unable to take risks. Art and literature have used blue to express sadness for thousands of years in some cultures. Fortunately due to the usage of blue by many brands, today’s young generation does not associate blue with sadness.

A lighter blue would have communicated relaxation, openness, and positive thinking that Pantone intended when publishing this color. This color is still much better than the Sherwin-Williams Naval SW 6244 color of the year 2020.

Evaluating the Pantone Classic Blue trend so far this year

COVID has wreaked havoc for this color. The homebound lifestyle has a negative impact on the predicted color trend. The fashion industry did not get the season of fashion. Lack of commercial flights and other COVID precautions restricted design events across the world. There were no red carpets or street style so nothing could be played out on streets and at events. If customers are not stepping out much for parties, events, or offices this beautiful color has hardly made it a strong trend this year. 

Apple has embraced the Color of the Year and is reflected in several product releases from iPhone 12, Apple watch 6 to iPad Air" this year.

In fashion, the ‘work from home’ looks for meetings is trending where more than clothes, accessories seem to be gaining importance. People are mostly focussed on their portrait view during the video conference calls where large accessories worn around the neck and ears are noticed. The newest accessory trend is in gemstones like sapphires and also in acrylics. For clothes, Classic Blue is an easy shade to pair with both neutrals and punchy hues. Classic blue can work with black or one can go for something adventurous and pair it with yellow or magenta.

Blue has become the new grey for interiors and the most popular decorating Color of the Year.

Home interiors are also finding blue as a trend on walls and woodwork. Classic Blue has pushed out grey on living room walls. Blue has an ability to be both bold and subtle, classic and contemporary, looks clean and elegant, and works perfectly in most parts of the home and home office.

As technology continues to evolve and become complex, the need for colors that promise trust to the consumers will become important. The UX/UI designers have been using Classic Blue as a trend this year in their designs. Its elegance, simplicity, tranquility, and versatility with other colors have appealed to digital designers. It is a safe color to use with all kinds of brands and target groups that are looking for honesty, credibility, and reliability being communicated through the UI. Classic Blue is more corporate and cold by nature, so designers are using more vibrant shades of this color as a dominant trend this year.

UI Designers are using this color to highlight contrasts, in the call to action buttons, icons, bullets, as a primary color, or a background color of dark interfaces.

Color of the Year post COVID era

COVID-19 has impacted millions of people at several levels negatively. Mankind is hopeful by nature and tends to be forward-looking. We like to plan and hope that tomorrow will be better than today. 

The next color trend should point to deeper existential questions and their solution. What is the ultimate purpose of life? Why do people suffer? What do we need to do to avoid becoming so vulnerable again?  The color might be a bit spiritual, thought-provoking, comforting with a promise of a better future. We need a color that communicates optimism, personalization, mindfulness, and creates a sense of well being of body, mind, and spirit. Only then this mystery color will express its subjective, emotional experience.

As we enter the Post COVID times, we aspire for normalcy in life and enjoy freedom. The color of the year 2021 should be the color of reset. The new color in 2021 will represent our desire for a dependable and stable foundation on which to build a new future. It should mark the start of mankind's healing process and the end of a crisis. What do you think?

Cover Image by Thomas Vimare. All the other images in this blog post were provided by the author.

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