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What Is ‘Life-Affirming’ Coral, Pantone’s Color of the Year?

What to know about Pantone 16-1546, the orange shade with a golden undertone

Is your life affirmed? (Pantone)
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Pantone has announced its color of the year for 2019, and it’s out with the “Ultra Violet,” in with the “Living Coral.”

The company’s latest selection for the color that best epitomizes everything from design trends to socio-economic conditions is an orange shade with a golden undertone, and Pantone has high expectations for its newest hue. In a statement, the company called Living Coral “sociable and spirited,” “familiar and energizing,” and, even, “life-affirming.”

Living Coral (also known by its less glamorous name of Pantone 16-1546) is a “reaction to the onslaught of digital technology and social media increasingly embedding into daily life,” the company said. In a time when the internet is often a despairingly hostile space, and human connections are being warped by digital technology, Living Coral is cheerful and vibrant, but not jarringly so.

“With consumers craving human interaction and social connection, the humanizing and heartening qualities displayed by the convivial Pantone Living Coral hit a responsive chord,” the company said in its statement.

So what does that mean? In part, the color takes us back to the corals of the natural world, explains Laurie Pressman, vice president of Pantone’s color consulting unit. “The overriding influence [this year] was the environment,” she tells Quartz's Anne Quito.

In the ocean, corals are traditionally found in a range of colors, including brown, green, bright red, orange and blue. Coral tissue is home to a photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae, and the two exist together in a symbiotic relationship. Corals provide algae with a protected environment, and the algae in turn offers a source of energy through the byproducts of photosynthesis.

Zooxanthellae also contains varying concentrations of the green pigment chlorophyll, which is why many corals appear green. But the intensity and wavelength of light hitting the corals can impact their perceived color. Genes may also play a role in corals' hues. Research has shown that variations in gene expression cause corals to emit three wavebands: green, cyan and red.

But corals can also take on a ghostly white appearance when they become stressed, due to factors like increases in ocean temperature, and expel their symbiotic and color-giving algae. Without their pigments, corals are susceptible to damage from sunlight, to say nothing of the fact that they lose an important energy source when their algal partners are gone. A 2017 Unesco report found that "coral bleaching" has impacted 72 percent of World Heritage-listed reefs, and predicted that these reefs were likely to disappear by 2100 if climate change progresses at its current rate.

When it came time for Pantone to choose its annual color, Pressman tells Quartz that "the importance of preserving the environment" directly influenced the selection of the optimistic orange shade with a golden undertone. “[H]ere we are watching them disappear,” she says of the ocean's coral reefs.

Pantone, a for-profit company that predicts color trends and advises brands and manufacturers, has been choosing a color of the year since 2000. To make its annual selection, Pantone analyzes not only global trends in art, fashion and design, but also new technologies (not coincidentally, the iPhone XR comes in a coral shade), social media and the current political climate.

“It’s a color snapshot symbolic of what’s taking place in the culture at a moment in time,” Pressman tells Quartz's Quito.

The company also tries to exert a subtle influence through its color du jour, according to Antonia Noori Farzan of the Washington Post. Last year’s selection of Ultra Violet was a dramatic combination of red and blue. Was it also a call to mend the political divide that has been cleaving America down partisan lines? Some certainly thought so.

While you may not entirely subscribe to Pantone’s claim that Living Coral acts as “an equalizing lens through which we experience our natural and digital realities,” research has shown that color can impact our mood. And ultimately, the company hopes that its shade of the year will bring a little bit of joy during these tumultuous times.

“It’s the emotional nourishment,” Pressman tells Leanne Italie of the Associated Press. “It’s a big hug.”

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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