Living Coral declared 2019 colour of the year

Got reef? Pantone’s colour of the year is intended to influence fashion and design. © Pantone

What does it tell us about ourselves? Each December, design company Pantone picks a colour of the year. It says 2019’s pink-orange hue will “provide comfort and buoyancy” in changing times.

This year, we explored the cosmos in ultraviolet. Next year we will be plunging into the ocean in search of the “warmth and nourishment” of a coral reef. At least according to Pantone, a design company which announces its “colour of the year” each December.

It is a serious business. Choosing Pantone 16-1546, or “Living Coral”, took a year of travelling the world and talking to people, according to the company’s executive director, Leatrice Eiseman. She said Pantone looks at “art exhibits and films and, of course, fashion” when deciding the next year’s hue.

The company’s website says that other influences include technology, social media and socio-economic conditions.

This year, the choice is also environmental: “We do have to think about bleaching of coral,” said Eiseman. In the end, the colour must represent “a feeling that’s out there in the zeitgeist.”

So why coral? According to Pantone, the onslaught of technology has left the world “seeking authentic and immersive experiences”. As a colour associated with nature, coral is “nurturing” and “familiar”.

For The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones, the colour has a dark side: “Only in times of panic do we crave the eternal splendour that Living Coral distils.” In other words, it promises paradise in a time of fear and uncertainty. He points out that, in the past, the reverse has been true: “In the wealthy Renaissance […] the rich set themselves apart by donning black.”

Indeed, colours have taken on symbolic meanings throughout history. According to the author Gavin Evans, red has been associated with protest since 1293, when it was used by pirates. This was solidified during the French Revolution when it symbolised the blood of martyrs.

Purple, on the other hand, was once such an expensive dye that it became associated with royalty — so much so that the Roman Emperor Nero banned it for anyone except himself.

Today psychologists study whether colour can affect our behaviour, with mixed results.

Does the colour of the year really tell us anything about 2019?

Coral’s moral

Of course not, say some. It is impossible to capture the mood of seven billion people. The task is so broad that it is essentially meaningless. What did “Cerulean Blue” say about the year 2000? Did “Greenery” in 2017 really represent “new beginnings”? This announcement is little more than a fashion trend, and fashion is notoriously fickle.

We can learn a lot, argue others. All seven billion of us are on this planet together; global issues like climate change remind us of that. And colour has always helped us to express our ourselves and our emotions. Living Coral is hopeful, warm and it embraces the natural world. What better message for 2019?

You Decide

  1. What colour best represents the world today?
  2. Does your favourite colour say something about your personality?


  1. Try to summarise the planet’s mood at the end of 2018 in a single sentence. Compare your results with your class. Do some common themes emerge?
  2. Create a visual artwork using the colour coral. This could be a photograph, video, painting or drawing.

Some People Say...

“Man needs colour to live; it’s just as necessary an element as fire and water.”

Fernand Léger

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Pantone began as a small printing company. In 1963, it released its first colour swatches, known as the Pantone Matching System. The swatches include over 1,000 numbered colours, printed on paper. They are intended to be used to match colours across different areas of design, such as paint, fabric and online. It announced the first “colour of the year” in 2000.
What do we not know?
How much the colour of the year actually influences the following year’s design industry. Pantone links to various products and design tools when it announces the colour. In the past, it has partnered with beauty company Sephora to produce make-up based on the colour. But as the colour is partly chosen based on existing fashion trends, it is impossible to measure its influence.

Word Watch

When water is too warm, coral reefs expel the microscopic algae which give them their colour. This causes the coral to turn white, known as bleaching.
The period between the 14th and 17th centuries in Europe, characterised by an outburst of art and new technologies.
French Revolution
This began in 1789, when France overthrew its monarchy, and lasted for around 10 years. Red flags were used to symbolise revolutionaries who had died in the struggle.
One recipe for Tyrian purple, from 1600 BC, involved crushing murex sea snails. Around 12,000 were needed for a single gram.
Emperor Nero
The emperor of Rome for 13 years between AD 54 and 68. He is often characterised as an extravagant tyrant. In one (probably false) story, he played the fiddle while 70% of the city burned in the Great Fire of Rome.
Mixed results
Most famously, some prison cells were painted light pink after a study in 1979 suggested that it had a calming effect on inmates. However, more recent (and better designed) studies found that the colour made no difference.

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