The Rise of the Secondary Colour

Every year Pantone – a leading source of information on colour trends and management – designates their “colour of the year”. They determine this colour through extensive research into trends and fashions across a wide range of industries. This year’s colour is Radiant Orchard – otherwise known as bright purple. Purple’s fortunes have risen quickly, as only last year style guru Tyler Brulé labeled it the “colour of compromise” in the New York Times. An informal survey of both high and fast fashion retailers just before Christmas found that if you were looking for woman’s fashions in a colour other than purple your choices where quite limited.

In looking at the past three years of Pantone’s colour of the year one interesting trend has emerged – they are all softer secondary colours with orange and green having taken the crown the two previous years. I find this somewhat surprising given some recent surveys conducted around colour preference. Not only are secondary colours less likely to be a person’s favourite colour they are also men and women’s least favourite colours by a large margin. And while most people don’t go around talking about their favourite colour these preferences find ways of creeping into our cultural landscape in a number of subtle ways. For example in his book Super Graphic, Tim Leong illustrates that SuperHeroes are almost always identified with bold primary colours whereas SuperVillains wear secondary colours.

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It has been documented that colors do generally align with specific characteristics (e.g., brown with hand-made, purple with sophisticated, and red with exciting), but often these characteristics are regional or cultural, influenced by many years of social conditioning. A recent article in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science has found that it’s more important for a brand’s colors to support the personality it wants to portray rather than trying to align with stereotypical colour associations.

Colour-Preference-chartsBut none of this provides many clues as to the reasons behind the rise of the secondary colours. Is it a desire to look at things in a new light following the economic meltdown of 2008 – 2009? Could it be tied to the rise in economic clout of female consumers who are more presupposed to secondary colours than men? Is it that organizations such as Pantone, which use to talk only to designers now have a much broader audience and are in fact driving trends not just commenting on them? Or is this just another colour fad like the bright neon colours of the late ‘80s? As with many trends unfortunately the answers to these questions only start to become clear as the trend fades.

Until then – any bets on teal for colour of the year in 2015?

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