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Soothsayer of Color
Pantone's color prognosticator Leatrice Eiseman talks about the color that will fuel design—and consumer desire—in 2014.

by Jude Stewart

Instead, we’re selecting a color that’s symbolic, that addresses the zeitgeist, that’s simply a suggestion of where to go. It gives creatives a challenge: how would you use this color, combine it, what’s your take on it? If a designer hates it, I’d say: let’s forget about our personal likes and dislikes and just consider the color professionally, see how we’d work that into a product line. Because you will be seeing a lot of this color, you have to separate your personal and professional selves.

Historically, there were days of the color edict, when an established color palette was announced and everybody went in that direction. But today we can’t really say there’s a color that’s “out.” Every single color family has some representative shades that we can safely say will be out there in eighteen months. The challenge is now: what have we not seen lately, that’s a variation of those themes? Is there a softer shade, or one that’s a gradient down? Those are the clues forecasters look for, something fresh to entice the consumer’s eye. That’s what it’s all about in this business.

Color choices matter differently to designers working with longer lead times, like fashion and furniture, versus graphic designers who can pivot rapidly. How should both groups of designers approach Pantone’s color forecasts?
The economy definitely plays into what colors people will buy, particularly with bigger-ticket items. It’s not a throwaway society anymore; people keep things longer. If you bought orange pillows or plates a few years ago, [the question is] how can you freshen up those plates, add something else to your tabletop to keep things attractive?

Until I joined Pantone [in 1985], I didn’t appreciate the talent that graphic designers have to have. They’re the unsung heroes of the design world. The challenge for graphic designers and branding projects is to play soothsayer. There’s nothing magical that’ll happen to make all the yellow-greens disappear from the world, but where are we going to take any color trend next? If a company is really steadfast in their allegiance to their brand’s colors, the challenge is greater: how to work within these limitations? I see it all the time. You walk into a meeting with a client, and the most important person in the room says, “It can’t be purple, I hate purple!” Designers have to know how to open up people’s minds to new colors.

You may encounter a lot of that kind of resistance with Radiant Orchid. How do you think men will react?
It’s true. Some guys of a certain age learned never to wear anything in purple or pink, because it’s too girly. But today the younger demographic—including those who think younger—are more open. Anyone engaged in active sports, really adrenaline-pumping stuff, loves this color. REI offered some fuchsia ski gloves that are really appealing. If guys see the color in GQ and on the runways, they’ll be more open to it.

Fashion is still one of my favorite areas. You can buy a T-shirt, tights or a headband and have fun with color on an inexpensive level. You don’t have to be nervous about how you’re mixing colors. Color allows you the freedom to venture beyond what you were told as a kid to do and not to do.

Even if people don’t get on a plane and travel, we certainly travel more on our computers and see how people everywhere use color. So we’re better educated as to how other cultures use color. There used to be rules against mixing pink and red. But now you can see how that’s done in another culture, and it’s gorgeous! You never stop learning in color—it’s constant amazement. ca Stewart
Jude Stewart ( lives in Chicago and writes about design and culture for Slate, The Believer, Fast Company and Print among others. Her first book, ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color, is available now.