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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

Is color forecasting a brilliant form of futurism—or errant hucksterism? Wherever you fall in this contentious debate, Pantone is actually just glad you’re talking about color. Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute since 1985, insists that color forecasting is less about dictatorial edicts and more about an ongoing, fluid cultural conversation—one in which a particular shade speaks to our collective longings, unlocking inarticulate needs (and commercial opportunities) through a wordless visual signifier.

Pantone's 2014 Color of the Year, Radiant Orchid, shown with complementary colors from Pantone's spring palette and full collection.

We talked to Eisman about how color forecasting fits into broader visual culture and how designers of every stripe can use Pantone’s pronouncements as a creative jumping-off point.

Tell us about Pantone’s 2014 Color of the Year, Radiant Orchid.
We chose a color this year from a family we haven’t used before. The name, Radiant Orchid, evokes what the color is all about. It’s captivating, magical and enigmatic. Your mind goes to Hawaii, to gorgeous tropical places. This shade has many facets, just like Emerald did in 2013. It’s celebratory, but also has a feeling of creativity attached to it, from its mother color purple.

What does that mean in today’s world? This color reflects joy, love and health. People want to have the confidence that comes with this kind of color. Radiant Orchid holds an undercurrent of beguilement, a come-hither quality; you want to find out what lies under-neath. Simple primary color doesn’t speak to where we are in today’s world—it’s a layered, complex world and this color celebrates that feeling. When we choose a color we pay attention not just to aesthetics, but to what the color means and what we need.

So what’s the significance of this announcement? Obviously it’s good PR for Pantone, but why should the rest of the world pay attention?
The most exciting thing about the Color of the Year is that it starts conversations. After the announcement, we look for how people express themselves using that color, how people put the color into unusual or thought-provoking combinations. Then it becomes about: why does this shade couple so well with Radiant Orchid? That’s what we love to see. It’s the discussion beyond [Radiant Orchid] that becomes the conversation about the color.

When and why did Pantone’s Color of the Year get its start?
Back in 2000, people kept asking us: what’s the color of the millennium? And we answered that question from a thoughtful standpoint: Cerulean Blue, representing the sky, the universe, where we are going with technology and our need for stability. You remember the worry about the Y2K bug? We chose that blue to counteract that fear. It took us by surprise that there was so much conversation and media coverage [in response to Cerulean Blue]. We thought: maybe there’s a need to pursue this further. Let’s not wait until the next millennium!

I know you hear this a lot: “Why should Pantone ‘dictate’ the colors that are in fashion next year?” How do you respond to the haters?
When I’m giving talks, I know some people sit there with folded arms, defensive. I say to them: I am the last person to issue edicts about color. It’s contrary to who I am and how I believe creative people should work. That’s not what this is about. 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.