Color Trends For 2018 (What Marketers and Small Businesses Need To Know)

Whether you’re an entrepreneur or small business owner looking to have your first logo designed, or an established company redesigning your website or marketing materials, the colors you choose can make or break your marketing initiatives.

As we wrote in 20 Statistics About Branding Every Entrepreneur and Marketer Should Know:

The right color can improve readership by 40% by making messaging easier to read and more visually appealing. Color is one of the first things our brains perceive from a brand, so it’s often the first thing that pulls us in.

Color is a huge factor of brand recognition. A signature color can increase brand recognition by 80% (like the Starbucks green).

In fact, updated studies on branding show that people respond to color in deeply felt ways. We noted this in how color influences customer’s behaviour,

In a widely-cited study called “The Impact of Color on Marketing,” research found that people make a subconscious judgment about products within the first 90 seconds of seeing it. The majority of these people evaluate these products on color alone: almost 85% of consumers cite color as the main reason they buy a certain product, and 80% of people believe color increases brand recognition.

Now that you know that color is important to branding and marketing, how can you use color properly in your business?

We have good news – you do’t have to guess to understand the latest color trends. At the end of every year, the wisest sages of all things design-related assemble their market research to proclaim the design trends for the following twelve months.

Color gets special scrutiny in these annual efforts to peer into the future, and rightfully so: color’s significance in design and branding is fundamental. For more about this, read: How 21 Brands Use Color to Influence Customers.

To help you take your brand and marketing to the next level, here are six things you should know about how marketers and businesses will use color in 2018.


Music streaming service Spotify makes vibrant colors a big part of their marketing and branding.

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Vibrant color will dominate

The dull browns and greys that were everywhere not so long ago have been shown the door.

Vibrant colors made significant inroads in the past year, no doubt building on our general nostalgia for the all things 80s and 90s.

Designers are opting for bolder colors, often in unusual combinations.

Whether this is because vibrant colors communicate energy, excitement, and optimism, or simply because unusual, bold color combinations are striking and visually strong, the trend is big and growing.


Colorful passes from the Scopitone Music Festival


This Absolut Vodka packaging mixes vibrant colors with dark backgrounds

Retro tones will continue to gain popularity

Every trend we’ve examined has mentioned retro or vintage as a recurring theme, and color trends are no different.

In incorporating retro elements into their designs, designers have brought colors back into the public eye, and solidified the shift from turning what was old into something new.

“Millennial Pink” was everywhere in 2017, and colors like this that draw from the looks of the 80s and 90s are still growing in popularity throughout popular culture.

This trend has legs. There were very few corners of media and culture that weren’t touched by some kind of influence from the 80s and 90s.

In fact, you’re probably seeing vintage packaging designs on product shelves. That’s not a coincidence, as we recently wrote when looking at packaging design trends for 2018:

As technology changes at an ever-increasing rate, many people feel an urge to ground themselves in the familiar and the nostalgic.

Companies aren’t just using vintage elements for new products. Many companies released special edition versions of their product packaging using old designs. These designs reminded consumers of the product’s longevity and quality.

The zeitgeist seems like a perfect storm for this nostalgia to continue. People who came of age in the 80s and 90s are now running influential businesses and studios, and people born in the last 20 years are far enough away from that time for it to feel new and undiscovered.

Pastels, neon tones, and energetic color combinations can be found in every area of design.

Garish palettes that mash up bright shades with contrasting dark patterns will continue to be a frequent go-to for designers in the new year.


Technology is shaping the colors we see

One trend that will continue to gain traction in the new year is the rise of color schemes generated by a machine or algorithm.

Advances in AI and machine learning are making it easier for computers to create color mixes based on a wide variety of inputs.


An example of a generated color palette from Colormind.

Web apps like Colormind and Coolors and apps like Adobe’s web-based Color CC and mobile app Adobe Capture CC make creating color combinations fast and easy.

Companies are using technology to generate colors, too.

As we saw in our look at packaging design trends for 2018, brands like Nutella used an algorithm to create seven million different brightly colored labels for a viral campaign in Italy.

This shift towards using technology to make decisions once made by humans reflects a growing trend towards automation throughout the world.


An example of Adobe Color’s generative Color Wheel

Tools like the previously-mentioned Colormind and Khroma take data pulled from large color collections (like Adobe Color) and use machine-learning to produce color palettes that are, as the Colormind blog calls them, “visually plausible.”

With the use and sophistication of AI and other related technology multiplying, look for even more machine-generated color palettes in the new year.


One color to rule them all

Designers are going full in with single colorful fills instead of white or other neutral choices.

These bold-looking designs have a visual pop that makes them stand out amongst a shelf or catalog filled with more traditional whites and light colors.

Monochromatic design has been around for a long time, but waned in popularity in the last couple of years as designers experimented with mixing wild hues in unusual combinations.

Perhaps as a response to the chaotic year that was 2017, working with single colors creates a visual harmony that brings cohesiveness and clarity to design.

Single color design combines well with other design trends we’ve discussed.

Minimalistic book covers, full-screen imagery web design, bright colored logos, and many others trends mix of-the-moment aesthetics with strong single color palettes.

There are many benefits to this one-color-for-all approach:

  1. It focuses attention on your product or content
  2. It creates a harmonious and cohesive look
  3. It can help strengthen the connection between a specific color and your brand
  4. It can simplify designs by putting constraints on color choices

Consider a monochromatic approach to your next design project before you branch out into exploring other color combinations. It’s easier to start with simplicity and mix in complexity than remove complexity once it’s already added.


It’s not easy being green.


An example of Smartwater‘s very appropriate use of monochromatic blue.

Pantone palettes for 2018

No discussion on color trends is complete without mentioning the (colorful) elephant in the room that is the Pantone color (and palettes) of the year.

Each year, the company best known for its Pantone color system, used by manufacturers and graphic designers, assembles a list of themes they expect will be favored in the coming months. They crown one color the “color of the year” with the prediction that it will be a major part of design decisions for the next year.

Pantone’s color of the year for 2018: Ultra Violet

What is the Pantone color of the year?

According to the organization, the color of the year is:

…a symbolic color selection; a color snapshot of what we see taking place in our global culture that serves as an expression of a mood and an attitude.

Their choice for 2017? “Greenery,” which they described as a “refreshing and revitalizing shade.”

The coming year, 2018, departs from 2017’s more muted hue, and comes from a very different group of colors. 2018’s color of note is “Ultra Violet.”

A dramatically provocative and thoughtful purple shade, PANTONE 18-3838 Ultra Violet communicates originality, ingenuity, and visionary thinking that points us toward the future.

Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the “Pantone Color Institute”, described the color this way:

We are living in a time that requires inventiveness and imagination. It is this kind of creative inspiration that is indigenous to PANTONE 18-3838 Ultra Violet, a blue-based purple that takes our awareness and potential to a higher level. From exploring new technologies and the greater galaxy, to artistic expression and spiritual reflection, intuitive Ultra Violet lights the way to what yet to come.


Pantone’s eight color palettes for 2018.

Top row, left to right: Vedure, Playful, Discretion, TECH-nique
Bottom row: Far-Fetched, Resourceful, Intricacy, Intensity (via Pantone)


The organization also released color palette predictions for 2018. Pantone announced eight different sets of colors at the International House + Housewares Show. They included:

  • Resourceful: A palette made up of blue and orange colors.
  • Verdure: Colors like Celery combined with purples and Eggshell Blue, which Eiseman described as being symbolic of health
  • Playful: With colors like “Minion Yellow” and “Lime Popsicle”, this palette was the opposite of serious. ”People need to stop and smile,” said Eiseman.
  • Discretion: This palette featured desaturated hues like Elderberry and Hawthorne Rose.
  • Far-fetched: This palette “reaches out and embraces many different cultures,” with its earthy hues like Rooibos Tea and Cornsilk Yellow.
  • Intricacy: Eiseman described the colors in this palette as being “neutral metallics”, featuring red and yellow.
  • Intensity: This group brought “a certain strength, power, depth, and sophistication” with its unusual mix of black, gold, and blue.
  • TECH-nique: Pantone’s nod to technology, featuring turquoise, pink, and purple combined with white and almond.

Pantone’s predictions may seem surprisingly specific and prescriptive, but according to this Fast Company Design profile, Pantone’s insights come from extensive research. That, and the company’s already familiar position as color experts have made this information quite valuable:

Its trend forecasting and books—which fetch about $800 each—and consulting services are a trusted resource for companies in retail, fashion, manufacturing, electronics, and more. Its experts travel the world and closely watch trends to predict the next big thing, which informs the Institute’s advice.

Pantone’s predictions, in conjunction with equally influential but lesser-known companies like WGSN (profiled in a fascinating look at design trends by podcast 99 Percent Invisible) form the framework for what designers and brands look to for advice and guidance.


Color my world

As with any trend, be sure to use trends like basic guidelines. What works for one Brand, startup or small business might not work well for another.

Our perception and enjoyment of color are highly subjective and personal.

One person’s beautiful hue can be another person’s cringe-inducing color, but the starting point these trends offer is invaluable.

After all, design is more important than ever for your business, as we recently wrote:

As we enter into a new golden age of design, good design has never been more important to the success of a business. Consumer awareness of good design is at an all-time high, thanks to companies like Apple, Target, and Starbucks, who make design a top priority.

The most successful companies know there are compelling reasons to prioritize design to improve the odds of success. Good design creates meaningful first impressions, helps you differentiate yourself from your competitors, can solve problems, and boosts brand awareness and the bottom line.

Whether your company and brand incorporate any of these trends should come down to careful research and reflection on how they correlate to or build upon what you’ve already established with your customers.

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