Pantone’s 2021 Colour of the Year is… grey and yellow

Illuminating and Ultimate Gray are next year’s hues of choice according to Pantone’s yearly prediction

After a relentlessly horrible 2020, Pantone has opted for a double colour of the year, selecting grey and yellow to convey “a message of strength and hopefulness”, as the press release states.

Pantone 17-5104 is described by the colour company as “solid and dependable”, akin to pebbles on the beach, or weathered natural elements that have stood the test of time, while Pantone 13-0647 is described as “sparkling with vivacity, a warming yellow shade imbued with solar power”.

It’s a classic combo, undoubtedly, although some have expressed surprise at the company’s choice of grey – and not just any grey, the aptly named Ultimate Gray – which is hardly the most uplifting colour to end the last 12 months on. According to Pantone’s Leatrice Eiseman, executive eirector of its Color Institute, the pairing is “practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic”, which certainly feel like things that are in short supply at the moment.

Pantone’s colour of the year announcement has become something of an end of year ritual for the creative industry – regardless of how seriously you take it. Admittedly, the choices can feel rather hit and miss, with 2020’s Classic Blue and 2019’s Living Coral making sense, while 2015’s Marsala and 2018’s Ultra Violet feel less like instant classics.

And, after everything that’s happened in this greyest year of all, it’s hard not to wish that Pantone had really gone to town on just one truly invigorating shade. Does Ultimate Gray feel a bit like we’re admitting defeat? Maybe Illuminating needed to stand on its own for 2021.