UI Design
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Toptal Design Blog Color of the Year 2020

Cameron Chapman
Cameron comes from a design background and is the author of two web design books: Color for Web Design and The Smashing Idea Book.

Every year a number of companies release their Color of the Year, most notably Pantone in the design industry. And each year there’s a discussion among designers about what that color is, how to use it, and why that particular hue was chosen.

The color of the year is generally both a marketing strategy on the part of the companies that release them and an exercise in trend forecasting. Companies consider current cultural trends and where those trends are likely to go over the coming year, tapping into the zeitgeist of not only the design world, but the world in general.

Having written a book on color theory, the color of the year has always fascinated me. How can a single hue encapsulate the mood of an entire year? And how do the people who come up with the color of the year go about it?

This year I got my chance to figure those questions out first-hand. Coming up with the Toptal Design Blog’s Color of the Year 2020 was both challenging and extremely interesting. The process is not unlike choosing a focal color for any design project and starts with thinking about mood and needs.

Potential inspiration for the color of the year 2020

Determining the Mood

When thinking about what 2020 would bring and what color might be best suited to represent it, several factors were considered. There were certain keywords that kept coming up: hope, positivity, and grounding being key among them. The psychology of color is one of the most interesting parts of color theory, and figuring out which colors best represent those keywords was an important step.

Design trends from the past year were also considered. Shutterstock released their 2019 Color Trends nearly a year ago and pointed to three major trending colors: UFO Green, Plastic Pink, and Proton Purple. All three are vivid, neon colors. Local favorites around the world included shades of green, blue, and purple.

Paint companies also follow color trends closely. While digital design isn’t necessarily going to follow trends in home decor, popular paint colors give insight into the psychological state of the average consumer. Last year the colors included lots of earth tones and neutrals, plus darker shades of green, blue, and purple.

This year some paint companies have already released their color of the year 2020, with a few shades of dusty pink included, as well as grass green, navy blue, and terracotta hues. The pinks point to consumers wanting a hue that will relax and comfort them, while the navy blue points toward a desire for tradition and honesty. The green hue included in these trends would indicate a desire consumers have to reconnect with the natural world.

The world is restless, and the colors of the year so far reflect an attempt to bring comfort and respite from that world—bringing us back to those three keywords: hope, positivity, and grounding. Translating those values into a digital sphere is a bit more complicated than painting a wall, but there are colors out there that embody all three and have enough character to stand out.

The 2020 color of the year should be hopeful and positive

Picking a Hue

Before choosing the final hue, some colors needed to be eliminated. Because it’s an election year in the United States, anything that could be perceived as political—red, blue, and purple—was immediately cut from the running. The color of the year 2020 should be accessible and inviting to all, and not a cause for division, whether intentional or perceived.

From there, other hues were considered and their meanings accepted. Brown was an obvious choice when it comes to “grounding” but it’s not really hopeful or positive. Yellow and orange are hopeful and positive but not particularly grounding.

That left green as the best choice. Green, depending on the exact shade, can be positive and hopeful. It can also be grounding due to its strong association with the natural world. Green’s association with plants, spring, and things that are growing also makes it an energizing color.

Color trends 2020 include shades of green

Green also works well in a variety of designs, from kid-friendly entertainment sites to corporate sites and everything in between. It can be serious or light-hearted, modern or traditional, upbeat or soothing.

But green is one of the most diverse color families in the world. Which presented another challenge: What shade of green would be the best fit for color of the year 2020?

Narrowing Down the Choices

Spanning everything from pale sage and mint greens to darker olive and hunter greens, including bright shades, muted shades, neon shades, and everything in between, there is no doubt that green is an incredibly diverse color family.

The best part about this diversity is that it gives a ton of options to choose from for color of the year. But that also presents a challenge: where to start.

There are the various shades of green that appear in water, from rivers and lakes to the ocean. My favorite lake often looks green near the shoreline, similar to beaches in the Caribbean. The idea of that lake, and water in general, became the primary source of inspiration for picking this year’s color of the year.

Lake Willoughby: inspiration for 2020 color of the year
Lake Willoughby often has a green hue around its shoreline. (Photo by Nathaniel Broderick CC BY-SA 4.0)

Once the general green hue was determined, the next step was to narrow down the exact color. Since water was the inspiration, searching for photos of beaches, the ocean, rivers, and lakes was a logical place to start.

Using the Digital Color Meter utility, the RGB values for various colors within the photos were established and a list of about 20 shades was created. Shades that were very close to one another were eliminated, and favorites from those groups were selected. When it was narrowed down to six specific colors, the Toptal Design Blog team was asked for their input.

There was no clear winner, with everyone discussing the pros and cons of their preferred colors. But the discussion (particularly the parts about how those colors could influence perceptions and emotions) was enough to help determine the final color of the year.

Inspiration for the color of the year

The Toptal Color of the Year 2020

Water and the natural world deeply inspired the final hue. It’s upbeat without being overwhelming. It has undertones of blue, giving it a calming character. At the same time, it’s bright enough to be energizing and hopeful.

The final color chosen was a dark seafoam green, specifically hex value #72C89E.

Toptal Design Blog’s Color of the Year 2020

Beyond the water it was inspired by, this color is widely found in nature. It can also be found in a variety of plants, including succulents.

Color of the year inspiration: succulents come in beautiful shades of green

And it’s even seen in rarer natural phenomena like the Aurora Borealis.

The northern lights can sometimes include the color of the year 2020

How To Use the Color of the Year in Designs

One of the primary things I wanted to accomplish with the color of the year 2020 was a hue that’s versatile enough to be incorporated into virtually any project. Some colors are best suited to particular industries or for distinct audiences. But green is universal, especially in a blue-green shade like dark seafoam green.

In digital designs, consider using dark seafoam green as an accent or background color. When paired with neutrals, it will “pop” and can be used as a focal color. But when paired with brighter colors, it can also work well as an accent.

Color trends 2020 include various shades of green
Brightscout’s website includes Toptal’s Color of the Year throughout their homepage’s illustration.

For things like packaging, dark seafoam green is subtle enough that it could be used as a background color without overwhelming other design elements. At the same time, it’s vibrant enough to stand out in logos, lettering, or images.

Color of the year in packaging design
The Toptal Design Blog’s Color of the Year is well suited to packaging design. (Image by Packaging of the World)

When considering whether to incorporate the color of the year into a project, there are a few things designers should consider. While the color is timely and was chosen specifically for 2020, it’s also a timeless shade that won’t look dated in a few years (unlike some other color trends from the past few decades). Because of that, it can be incorporated into projects that will have some longevity.

At the same time, it’s so well suited to the mood for the coming year that it’s an excellent option for shorter-term projects, such as promotional sites or limited-time-offer graphics.

Color of the year 2020 used in a festival website
The Amsterdam Ferry Festival uses the Color of the Year as an accent color alongside shades of blue and purple.

A lot depends on the other colors a designer wants to incorporate into their project. If paired with trendy colors (such as other colors of the year), it’s more likely to be perceived as of-the-moment. Whereas if paired with more timeless colors or neutrals, it will work as well as it does this year five years from now.

Color Palette Examples

While dark seafoam green might initially seem hard to pair with other hues, it’s actually quite versatile. Colors that are analogous on the color wheel, particularly shades of blue, work well. Complementary and split-complementary colors also work well, including shades of pink and purple.

Color of the year 2020 combined with blue, rose, and peach

This color palette includes analogous colors as well as complementary ones. It has a fresh, feminine vibe.

Color of the year 2020 combined with shades of blue

Combining dark seafoam green with shades of blue gives it a traditional, classic feeling.

Color of the year 2020 with shades of pink and gray

Bright pink pairs beautifully with dark seafoam green, as does gray. This would be an excellent choice for a design aimed at younger women.

Color of the year 2020 combined with brown and greenish gray

Brown and grayish-green hues bring out dark seafoam green’s earthier aspects.

Color of the year 2020 with purple, light blue, and gray

Mixing dark seafoam green with purple and light blue gives a very modern feel, while light gray keeps it grounded.

Conclusion

The Toptal Design Blog’s Color of the Year 2020 aims to bring hope and positivity to the coming year, while also helping designers (and those they design for) connect with nature and stay grounded. When working with the color, designers can turn to color palettes that appear in the natural world—in plants and water particularly.

The color of the year is versatile enough to be incorporated into a wide variety of design projects. Depending on what other colors a designer pairs it with, it can be serious or lighthearted, modern or classic, feminine or masculine.

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Further reading on the Toptal Design Blog:

Understanding the basics

What is the color of 2020?

Numerous companies release a color of the year each year, including Pantone and some paint companies. The Toptal Design Blog’s Color of the Year 2020 is a dark seafoam green shade, specifically hex code #72C89E. Other colors of the year include shades of pink, grass green, navy blue, and terracotta.

Why does Pantone choose a color of the year?

Pantone calls itself the “global authority on color,” and therefore as both a marketing strategy and a trend forecasting exercise, they pick a color of the year each year, and have done so since 2000. Colors picked have included Millennial Pink, Ultra Violet, Greenery, and Tigerlily.

Who decides the color of the year?

Numerous companies choose a Color of the Year each year, the most famous among them being Pantone. Other companies include Behr, Sherwin Williams, and Benjamin Moore. The Toptal Design Blog is also releasing a color of the year for 2020, a dark seafoam green shade.

What are the colors for 2020?

There is a number of color trends for 2020, with at least two shades of green (one from Behr and one from Toptal’s Design Blog), a light pink from Benjamin Moore, and a navy shade from Sherwin Williams. These hues are reassuring, grounding, and hopeful - feelings consumers are likely to look for in 2020.

What is Pantone color?

Pantone colors are specific color codes for particular hues. These color codes are very specific and originate in the print industry where they’re referred to as spot colors. These spot colors are used for printing when an exact match is required that may not be possible with a four-color printing process.