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The ‘Color Of The Year’ Doesn’t Just Happen, These Experts Painstakingly Pick It

Men and women from six countries met at the Hotel Monaco in downtown Pittsburgh this week charged with making one very big decision, one that will affect millions of consumers – how they think and how they shop. They gathered to pick PPG Paints' color of the year.

The company's senior color manager Dee Schlotter pointed at neutral posters coated in colorful, handwritten words like “awareness,” “utilitarian” and “structured rebellion.” Paint swatches and magazine cutouts adorned glass walls. 

Words and images spur the brainstorming process, she said. 

“So much happened (in 2016) that nobody thought would happen,” Schlotter said. “It’s going to turn everything on its head this year.”

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Color stylists brainstorm trends for consumer products at the three-day Global Color Forecast Meeting held at the Hotel Monaco in downtown Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017.

The experts determine the PPG Paints color of the year and a palette of 120 additional colors based on fashion, marketing, psychology and society. In 2016, they chose violet verbena, a grayed, purplish hue meant to symbolize what Schlotter called 2017's “blended society.”

“The male, female, the gender blend, the indoor-outdoor blend, the age blend,” Schlotter said. “We like to validate every single color story.”

They chose the moody shade in June, before the presidential election, Brexit and an ongoing global refugee crisis.

It's an imperfect art, she said, as much intuition as science.

“It really depends on who’s using the space to identify what colors would connect with them and make them either energized or feel safe or feel calm,” Schlotter said.

Forecasting is a common practice among paint companies. ValsparPantoneSherwin-Williams and Benjamin Moore each chose different colors for 2017.

Jane Harrington, PPG automotive color stylist, said the idea of “things taking time" has been a recurring theme for PPG this year. 

Schlotter, Harrington and two dozen others spent their three days in Pittsburgh imagining the emotions consumers would feel about certain shades and how they might translate to consumer electronics, automobiles and architectural coating. 

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Jane Harrington, PPG automotive color styling manager, says she'll be looking at the trends in consumer products to determine what colors might be best for vehicles as far as 2021.

There aren't a lot of violet verbena cars on the road today, Schlotter said, but various industries will take the color into account and might create products that compliment the hue.

In the past, that debate has led to the creation of the rose gold iPhone or the avocado green appliances of the 1970s. Recently in London, an AirBnB decorated their entire space based on Pantone's 2017 color, "greenery."

Color choice often defines user experience, Schlotter said, and that has to include demographic factors.

Nursing homes, she said, often change their design based on the generation living there.

"Baby Boomers will not put up with the off-white walls or the pukey green walls that the Silent Generation is currently dealing will," Schlotter said. "They're going to want something more."

Once PPG Paints' colors are selected, Schlotter said the experts will create “stories” to accompany and validate their choices. The stylists will write small descriptions of the colors. This year's violet verbena was said to be "polished, yet playful." 

The 2018 color will be announced later this year.

Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community. kblackley@wesa.fm