COLOR TREND FORECASTING: Finish Meets Fashion; Science Meets Art

various images using pantone's 2021 colors of the year For only the second time in 20 plus years of color forecasting, the Pantone Color Institute has announced that its 2021 color of the year is two colors!  This led us to take a deeper dive into color trend forecasting. Color trend forecasts have garnered more media attention in recent years and seem to be increasingly impacting interior design trends, as well as fashion, home décor and consumer products from blenders to cars. Who’s behind the color picks each year and how are they selected?

Color Forecasting Defined

Color forecasting is the practice of predicting what consumers will want to purchase in the near future. There are organizations such as the Color Marketing Group (CMG), the Color Association of the United States (CAUS), the International Colour Association (AIC) and the International Color Alliance (ICA) focused on this task.  These groups inform companies on color trends for packaging, signage, and product design.  There are even trade shows, such as the ChromaZone®, Conference and International Summit, where color professionals from around the world gather to share their collective knowledge.

According to the Color Marketing Group, color forecasting is both a highly technical practice and an art.

Designers and color experts draw on research from field reports, consumer surveys and product split tests as a quantitative basis for their projections. The data is merged with tradeshow research, news media reports, economic temperature, pop culture and world events. The color experts then create mood boards for review and collaboration.  The culmination of these steps is color trend forecasting.

color trends forecasting by Benjamin Moore
Benjamin Moore curates a Color Trends palette that balances modern-day relevance with long-lasting appeal. At the center is one special hue that defines the palette—and the moment: the Color of the Year.

Color Trends and Color of The Year

The Pantone Institute designated its first color of the year in 2000.  Its pick that year was Cerulean Blue, described as a serene and peaceful tone for the new millennium. Our own interior designers, the printing industry, fashion, and other industries regularly reference the Pantone Matching System (PMS)  to synchronize color selections.  In early December each year, the Institute reveals its pick which is often based on world events. We were especially curious about what they would select based on the events of 2020.

A living room utilizing AkzoNobel’s Color of the Year for 2021 - a warm and grounding neutral shade
Brave Ground has been unveiled as AkzoNobel’s Color of the Year for 2021. It’s a warm and grounding neutral shade that gives us the courage to embrace change.

In addition to the Pantone Color Institute, Akzo Nobel Global Aesthetic Center (Dulux), several of the largest paint manufacturers and a handful of influential style agencies choose a color of the year. Often paint manufacturers will highlight a mixed palette of colors in any given year. Akzo Nobel offers four different palette options to complement its 2021 pick, Brave Ground, a warm neutral shade.

Likewise, Benjamin Moore chose Aegean Teal at its 2021 color of the year, for its “intriguing, balanced, and deeply soothing” qualities. Aegean Teal is part of its color trends 2021 palette comprised of 12 hues that “radiate health and wellbeing.  It would seem that the events of 2020 were top of mind when choosing color trends for the upcoming year.

Pantone Color Institute is the best known authority for color trend forecasting
The Pantone Color Institute is seeing two colors in this year’s color forecast, the second time for a double pick by the organization.

Back to the Pantone 2021 Color of the Year

The contrasting 2021 selections are Ultimate Gray, a calming, neutral and Illuminating, a bright yellow tone. The pairing is described by the institute as “a marriage of color conveying a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting.” “Each of them has its own emotional aspect, the gray being the one that’s more supportive and solid, the practical foundation that we need, and the yellow is about hopefulness and sunshine and good cheer,” Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the institute, told TIME magazine.

color trend forecasting - Pantone Color Duo of the Year 2016 This is only the second time that Pantone selected two colors for its color of the year. The first was in 2016 when Rose Quartz, a soft pink, and Serenity, a powder blue, were selected in acknowledgement of gender fluidity and social progress.  This year’s complementary tones are also a sign of the times.

“With current events in mind, seeing people reset their minds and their priorities, there appeared to be an understanding that we need each other if we’re going to get through to this other place, and a pairing of colors underscored that interdependence,” Laurie Pressman, vice president, shared with Architectural Digest.

The pandemic also impacted the selection process itself.  Due to travel restrictions, researchers collaborated online and relied on trend reports from local staffers around the world.

a child holding a rainbow colored umbrella Color Forecasting Pros and Cons

On the positive side, color forecasting is a powerful strategy for effective messaging.  It communicates a mood that’s relevant and resonates with consumers at a point in time.  Trends forecasts helps manufacturers, brands, and marketers create research-fueled and validated products in colors that sell.  On the flip side, the increased emphasis on annual trends may also contribute to waste.  In 2017, fashion designer Stella McCartney called for overhaul of the ‘incredibly wasteful’ fashion industry.

There may also be an element of self-fulfilling prophesy in color trend forecasting. There is typically increased availability and prevalence of top pick color designations in any given year.  Obviously, color forecasters are dedicated to helping companies sell their products. Media buzz regarding the “it” color creates a perceived need that further encourages consumers to buy.

a yellow chair While RLPS Interiors advocates for an interior refresh on a regular basis, we focus on timeless solutions and long-term value rather than the latest trends. A few noteworthy accessories or painted accent walls create contemporary interest and can be changed out easily.  For example, Ultimate Gray is a viable foundation color option for a wide range of commercial spaces.  Adding a bright yellow pop of Illuminating brings fresh energy into a space.

Blog Editor:  Jodi Kreider, LEED AP