A light at the end of the tunnel: Pantone seeks a sense of grounding and support for 2021 as they announce the duo of PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray (think industrial slab of concrete) and PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating (a warm, soft sunset yellow) as their color(s) of the year for 2021.

pantone color of the year 2021
via Pantone

Only once before have the experts at the Pantone Color Institute ever awarded this prestige to two colors (in 2016 to recognise gender fluidity). Right now it feels like a medal; after the likes of 2020, heck, 2021 deserves it.

Originally predicted to be a year of calm in Classic Blue, this past year has been the most tumultuous imaginable on every level and going back over it in my mind feels depressingly dizzy and raw. Yet, the bizarre highs and (mainly) lows of isolation provide the perfect example of just how voraciously out of control this year has been. Endurance, strength and optimism have pulled us through by the skin of our teeth and it’s these three traits we are attributing to the gray and yellow of 2021. 

Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a color combination that gives us resilience and hope.
- Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director Pantone
Pantone color swatch 2021
Via Pantone

On one hand, Ultimate Gray feels solid, impenetrable and bleak. On the other, we have the lighter, hopeful and current Illuminating yellow. Bring these two together and you can recognise a warm resilience in Pantone’s color choice.

Not only this, but a reflection of what is happening in world events. This tonal pairing encompasses the seriousness of ongoing struggles like the Black Lives Matter movement and stay-at-home orders, while at the same time acknowledging the hope connected to the recent world announcements we’d all been waiting for: there are multiple vaccines against COVID ready to be distributed over the coming months. 

A photo of the Black lives matter landing page
Via Black Lives Matter

Like other disasters currently overwhelming us (climate change, systemic racism etc.), it feels like it’s going to be an eternity before we are out the other side, yet we somehow know we’re going to make it there.

It’s that strangely human feeling, a blend of heavy dread and aching positivity, which is lurking behind Pantone’s choice of gray and yellow for 2021: a year to gather ourselves together, pick up the pieces and to mostly appreciate our chance to look forward…

…and for us, that means starting with design!

Here are some beautiful examples of designs that showcase what Illuminating and Ultimate Gray look like in action.

Motivational quote on grey and yellow print publication
By goopanic
Gray and yellow illustrated logo design
By Hawnit_Studio
Yellow logo printed on grey marketing materials
By Lucas Matheus Via Behance
Yellow and grey poster
By Wedge Studio Via Behance
print exhibition pamphlet with illustrations
by Masaomi Fujita / tegusu Via Behance
Yellow dancing illustration
by Fran Pulido Via Dribbble
Want some more color in your life?
Get yourself an optimistically powerful yellow-and-gray design!