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2016 Colors Are Here!

Color is one of my favorite things to study. It has wider implications and reflects far more than we could ever expect at first glance. While we often choose color because “it looks cool” or “Jenny was wearing that” or “it just feels right,” our choices often reveal more than just our intuitive feelings about a shade. They can be used as a gauge to measure, or a tool to change, our cultural climate. Our color choices have much to do with how culture influences us – and how we choose to influence the culture itself.

Every year, the big companies that deal heavily with color – ink (for pro printers) and paint – release their colors and palettes that supposedly reflect current or desired culture and fashion. So what do the colors of this year say about our cultural climate?

Let’s review:


(See their 2016 colors in use here)

In the USA design world, Pantone inks are a reliable source for print and paint. Pantone is unique because they speak into both the interior and graphic design worlds. Every year they choose a single color of the year. That is, until 2016. This year, they blended two shades and released a double color of the year. And, ladies and gents, it’s a fully loaded color combination: pastel pink and pastel blue, cooly named Rose Quartz & Serenity.




An excerpt from the Pantone Website:

As consumers seek mindfulness and well-being as an antidote to modern day stresses, welcoming colors that psychologically fulfill our yearning for reassurance and security are becoming more prominent. Joined together, Rose Quartz and Serenity demonstrate an inherent balance between a warmer embracing rose tone and the cooler tranquil blue, reflecting connection and wellness as well as a soothing sense of order and peace.

The prevalent combination of Rose Quartz and Serenity also challenges traditional perceptions of color association.

In many parts of the world we are experiencing a gender blur as it relates to fashion, which has in turn impacted color trends throughout all other areas of design. This more unilateral approach to color is coinciding with societal movements toward gender equality and fluidity, the consumer’s increased comfort with using color as a form of expression, a generation that has less concern about being typecast or judged and an open exchange of digital information that has opened our eyes to different approaches to color usage.”

OK. I get it. I totally get what they’re doing here, and I admire their boldness. But let’s be honest: most of my clients in the real world would never consider using these two colors together without any other colors unless they had us designing invitations to a baby shower. Generally, Pantone is on the cutting edge of color, but this feels like more of “a statement” than something practical. Their palettes (pictured below) offer some hope, but if we’re going to stick with the pairing that Pantone offers, I personally would like to vote Rose Quartz off the island and replace it with one of their slightly deeper pinks from below. But I digress…Color2016_Pantone

In the end, I think their colors of the year will only survive with the palettes that complement them, but I tip my hat to Pantone for having the courage to break the mold.

Moving on:

Sherwin Williams

(See their 2016 colors in use here)

The color of the year for Sherwin Williams is Alabaster, which is far more neutral than Pantone’s. And yet, check out the surprisingly similar description attached to a far more passive, safe, and practical-use tone:

“Alabaster represents a straightforward and necessary shift to mindfulness. It provides an oasis of calmness, spirituality and ‘less is more’ visual relief. Alabaster is neither stark nor overly warm, but rather an understated and alluring white.”




See the other 2016 Sherwin Williams colors below:Color2016_SherwinWilliams

(See their 2016 colors in use here)

Behr’s colors are far more energetic than the others, brighter, and the neutrals are very earthy. And their reasoning is very different:

“As the hypnotic draw of technology lures the masses into an ever plugged-in existence, a need for analog experiences and environmental stimulation drives us to engage the senses of sight, sound, smell and touch in our homes. This new direction in design is raising the bar to create interiors that are appealing to a design-savvy, yet sensory-deprived society.

Our 2016 Trends address the importance of color in constructing stimulating environments. You’ll see how you can use varying hues, intensity and lightness levels, patterns and textures to establish your own sensory-rich space. Though each theme uses a different style and color approach, the end result creates interiors with impact and dimensionality.”



(See their 2016 colors in use here)

Again, another company chooses multiple colors of the year! With Valspar, we find some crossover with Pantone and Sherwin Williams in the muted colors, but check it out: their “You Do You” palette (third row down) is again touching on the aspect of celebrating individuality and breaking stereotypes, looking far more gender-neutral (besides that pastel pink again) and far brighter than all the rest:


Inspired by new standards, acceptance — even celebration — of individuality. 

Challenging the stereotypes of beauty, gender and social expectations.

Allowing the truth of who we are to shine.”



Overall Color Trends for 2016

All of our colors:


All of our colors on a spectrum:

You’ll notice our trends:

  1. Warm Pinks and Reds
  2. Warm Neutrals
  3. Warm Yellows
  4. Warm Blues and Teals

In other words, 2016 is looking warm.

Even if you aren’t fond of the exact colors that these companies have released, there is a silver lining in which you can take heart. Typically, brighter colors become more dominant in times of cultural difficulty, which can be from financial/economic instability, distress from national events, etc. Our colors this year largely lean away from bright, or even super-saturated. The majority of them are muted or pastel and understated, which is hopefully a good reflection for our current cultural and economic climate in the US. Economically, the US has been mostly stable in comparison to previous years. And though this is an age of controversy, the color industry is aiming optimistically to keep our culture moving along.

One question which might be posed, however, is if — in all the emphasis on individuality and “you be you” and gender-bending these colors purport to reflect — we may have lost focus on color differences that convey individuality outside of a white, Caucasian world? What about individuality among other races and ethnicities? Do these colors “speak” the same way to those groups?