12 Jan Why We Love (and Why You Should Care) About Pantone’s 2018 Color of the Year: Ultra Violet10 min read
Purple haze, all in my brain
Lately things they don’t seem the same
Actin’ funny, but I don’t know why
Excuse me while I kiss the sky
– Jimi Hendrix, “Purple Haze”
When we heard the announcement about Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2018, we were pretty pumped around here. After the initial geeking out wore off, I started putting some thoughts together about what it means to us as artists and to our clients to be one month into the year of Ultra Violet.
HOW PANTONE PICKS THE C-O-Y
If you thought Pantone selected their color of the year on a whim, based on a committee meeting where all the execs voted on their favorite color or something, you’d be wrong. Very wrong.
As each new year approaches, the Pantone Color Institute’s experts in the language of color painstakingly dissect elements of culture to identify our collective experience and translate it into color. Everything from food and fashion to product design and politics is considered.
What they saw in the months leading up to 2018 was mystery and complexity; a move toward becoming more contemplative as a culture as well as pushing boundaries; an outpouring of non-conformity and bursts of creativity.
Starting to see why we love this color so much?
“Enigmatic purples have also long been symbolic of counterculture, unconventionality, and artistic brilliance. Musical icons Prince, David Bowie, and Jimi Hendrix brought shades of Ultra Violet to the forefront of western pop culture as personal expressions of individuality.” – Pantone COY 2018 Announcement
SCIENTIFICALLY OUT THERE … AND A LITTLE DANGEROUS
Ultra Violet (UV) light is just beyond what we can see on the electromagnetic spectrum. The color is, in a sense, literally the next layer of reality, outside of what we consider everyday normal, so that the best we can do is create a purple representation of the real thing by mixing blues and reds.
Actual UV light is not to be taken lightly. It burns our skin, as if nature cautions us against taking Ultra Violet for granted. Handle with care.
HISTORICALLY RARE AND MYSTERIOUS
Purples have long been associated with exceptionalism. It makes sense, given the ancient world could only produce it by extracting mucus from a specific species of sea snail. It took a quarter of a million mollusks to get an ounce of dye. This was seriously precious stuff.
It was long consolidated among rich and powerful. Royals and their class wore purple. It became the liturgical color for the season of Lent in the Christian church, probably to acknowledge the kingship of Christ. This is probably where its connotation crossed over into spirituality, the mysteries of the unseen.
Rare. Exceptional. Powerful. Spiritual. This color isn’t messing around.
HOW BRANDS WIN WITH PURPLES
In Fast Food: Taco Bell
This fast food chain has been remarkably countercultural since its founding in 1962. They did everything opposite in their branding from what everyone was doing in the burger and fries industry. McDonald’s, for example, was all reds and yellows. I find it fascinating that they chose violet and pink. Even as Lippincott and TBD introduced a new, more minimalistic logo in 2016 that leans more toward the trend of versatility and pattern, they kept the violet.
Their marketing campaigns push boundaries. Think of the talking dog who only said “Yo quiero Taco Bell”; not the most culturally sensitive mascot, but it worked with their audience at the time. I’m sure they invented “fourthmeal” because they know who’s eating their food, when and why.
(If you need a hint, do a Google image search for “Taco Bell legalize pot” and you’ll get the idea.)
In B2B: FedEx
On the flip side, FedEx’s use of purple starts with its innovative qualities and ends up in a completely different place. They have paired it with many complementary colors for different services (e.g. Express (orange), Ground (green), Freight (red), etc.), but the primary logo for the corporation grounds that purple with grey.
They get the best of two worlds. The purple gives the brand a touch of whimsy, playfulness evident in their original, silly tagline, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” Grey is a timeless, conservative color that says this is also a stately, serious enterprise.
The grey is important. I don’t want someone to be playful with my packages.
In Entertainment: SyFy
When you don’t have a complementary color to ground your purple, you unleash all its complex psychology. If they wanted to achieve a sense of the ethereal, SyFy chose their logo color well. The subject matter is cosmic, mysterious, beyond understanding.
Purple also taps into creativity and innovation. That works well for a channel known for pushing the limits in innovative television programming. It is, however, important to note that in June of 2017 SYFY released a new logo and brand update abandoning their use of violet and purple. They moved toward a black and neon brand with emphasis on typography systems. From the brand designers over at LoyalKaspar :
“The new logo is unmistakably sci-fi while plotting a bold new course forward and it feels playful, vibrant and elastic enough to live within the entire genre universe.
So, while they may have moved away from purple, the ethos of UltraViolet holds true in their brand yet again.
In Tech: Twitch & Yahoo
Twitch, a kind of YouTube for gamers with lots of tutorial content, utilizes a similar hue in its branding and achieves a similar effect. They’re associated with innovation in the gaming industry. Their brand color also plays into the ethereal fantasy element common to video games.
For Yahoo, their use of purple denotes their commitment to innovation in all aspects of technology and communication. It’s no surprise at all that they go all in for purple.
In Candy: Cadbury & Wonka
Purple exploded in the 1800s when the invention of synthetic purple dye made it far more readily available. Cadbury likely adopted it to achieve a sense of childlike wonder. The brand invites children to play with their food, to be creative.
A century later, it only made sense for the Wonka brand to follow suit, latching onto the color Cadbury had helped make a classic symbol of childhood joy.
Both brands continue to benefit. In the year of Ultra Violet we’re all more likely to suffer from candy cravings.
WHAT NOT TO DO WITH THE COLOR OF THE YEAR
So the big takeaway here is to rebrand immediately to fall into step with the purple zeitgeist, right?
Ultra Violet is not going to be for everyone. No color is for everyone.
The reason I get interested in Pantone is because their whole job is to pay attention to the world with regard to color. Ultra Violet is a reflection of the cultural tone they were seeing in the second half of 2017. It is their best prediction for what 2018 is going to look like.
That’s Pantone’s job. We have a different job as designers.
The job of designers is to use our brand assets to best communicate the characteristics of the company we represent. When we can take what Pantone says back to the client, we’re saying that while this exact color might not be right for the brand, the cultural tone it represents is definitely relevant.
So if you are the kind of brand that can incorporate Ultra Violet into design this year, great. If not, don’t worry about it. There’s no reason to flip the script and turn everything purple. It’s best to maintain your brand, to be true to who you are.
Just keep in mind where your audience is coming from. Pantone says people are feeling, in general, Ultra Violet. That’s useful to think about. That’s fun to think about.
Or to sing about.
Excuse me while I kiss the sky.