Does Pantone's Colour of the Year 2016 really represent gender equality and is their prediction more about the sentiment?

On 3rd December 2015, Pantone announced their annual Colour of the Year prediction for 2016, Serenity and Rose Quartz. This years announcement shocked me, along with a lot of others within the creative industry. As soon as I saw the announcement pop up on Facebook, my head instantly filled with questions which I needed to find the answers too. How can Pantone’s ‘Colour of the Year 2016’ be two Colours? Are Pantone trying to say something about gender with pink and blue or was someone in the office organising a baby shower and had pastel pink and blue on the brain? How is this colour scheme going to work throughout all seasons when it’s such a Spring/Summer palette? 

2 minutes on Twitter and it seemed I wasn’t the only one with all these questions. The whole design community filled with conversations about the choice of colours by Pantone. My biggest thought was - Pantone must have done this on purpose, surely they know how controversial this statement was. I was right, Pantone later put out a statement that their choice of Serenity and Rose Quartz was ‘ A nod to gender equality’. I agree with Pantone’s choice to make a statement about gender equality in a year where gender was at the top of everyones news feeds. The year that same sex marriage became legal in all states of America, the year Facebook revoked it’s policy that forced you to use your legal name on your profile to allow transsexuals to use their chosen name and the year that everyone first heard the name Caitlyn Jenner. I think it’s a bold statement from Pantone and one that I’m glad such a big brand have made, I don’t however agree that pink AND blue represent gender equality. I appreciate what Pantone is trying to do but their justification for their choice of colours was that they were ‘bending the gender rules’ and it doesn’t make sense to me to use the 2 colours which represent genders to do that. It’s the most simplistic and cliche choice they could have made and Pantone are smarter than that.

I’ve thought for a long time that pink for girls and blue for boys is an outdated and unnecessary custom but I realised when debating Pantone’s attitude with a friend that I abide by these rules daily without even thinking about it. When I’m designing prints for baby clothes I put the girls names in pink and the boys names in blue and let’s face it, if I did it the other way around they wouldn’t sell. I have 4 coloured backdrops in my photography studio, black, white, pink and blue. No one has ever wanted a pink backdrop for a boys photoshoot, and neither has anyone asked for the blue for their girls. I do wonder sometimes, what if I had a yellow backdrop or an orange backdrop, would anyone use those or would they still stick to the pink and blue?  

It’s this concept that makes me wonder why Pantone announced two colours for their ‘nod to gender equality’, could they not find 1 colour to represent both? They could have made a big impact on how we use colour by finding a colour which is truly gender equal, or at least just given us pink and told us to get over our preconceptions. It will be interesting to see whether we see the prediction of both colours within men’s clothing as well as women’s clothing or whether masculine brands will choose to only use the blue tone. 

Explaining their choice, Pantone stated on their website “In many parts of the world we are experiencing a gender blur as it relates to fashion… the consumer's increased comfort with using color as a form of expression, a generation that has less concern about being typecast or judged”. There’s no arguing with what Pantone has said and what they are trying to do, gender lines have been blurring of late and it’s about time we ended the whole pink for girls, blue for boys stereotype. Pantone are suggesting that if we mix up colour and gender and use these colours for both genders then maybe then we can get rid of the stereotyping of genders and colours for future generations. I hope that this is the start of facing out gendered colour but I don’t think it’s going to change over night and I think we’ll still be having this debate this time next year. I might be wrong but I don’t think I’ll be implementing this colour scheme through my work this year. I don’t think we’re quite ready for using these two colours to represent the opposite gender just yet. We can say a lot through colour but the miss use of it can say even more, with only seconds to get a message across in a design, colour can say a lot and it helps us to target our audience quickly and effectively. Using the wrong colour could mean an ad campaign is instantly dismissed by a whole gender and when there's a lot of money riding on a marketing campaign that’s a big risk. 

Other than the issue of the announcement looking more like a baby gender reveal, I had a couple of other issues with Pantone’s prediction. I’m really shocked that after 10 years of bright and bold choices that 2016 suddenly is going to be full of pastel shades. It seems to be a big contrast to the past years and I’m a little sceptical that this is going to be the theme of 2016. However, with Pantone being as big and powerful as it is now, their colour of the year could be seen more of a trend setter than a prediction. I can’t help but think that design, from clothing to interiors, in 2016 will be full of pastel pink and blue because Pantone says so.