Jude Stewart is author of Colorswatch a twice-monthly blog about color for Print Magazine. She has written on design and culture for Slate, The Believer, I.D., Metropolis, and GOOD, as well as a column on color for STEP Inside Design. Read on at www.judestewart.com or check out her tweets about color at twitter.com/joodstew. Read the original post here.
Every once in a while, an unbelievably specific color gains momentum in current graphic design trends. Even more rarely, that color reveals itself to be incredibly versatile. Case in point: the new hot color, a flaming orange-pink.
Because my husband and I are clearly insane, we painted our dining room walls five different times in different custom-mixed shades in order to get the tricky balance between a saturated orange and bold pink that has been used eloquently by several of Print’s New Visual Artists this year:
It's a color that would warm the cockles of Josef Albers’ heart. It has a jaw-dropping capacity for change as you swap different colors into its proximity: Black or darker backgrounds give it a vibrant, surprisingly elegant restraint, which is particularly useful when printing with a limited number of colors. On the web, Armin Vit of UnderConsideration.com uses flame as a distinctive color-signature to carve out the Quipsologies sub-brand.
Surprisingly enough, a color this close to emergency-orange doesn’t scream urgency unless injudiciously paired with lighter shades, particularly white. For School of Visual Arts’ summer program !mpact: Design for Social Change, a flame-imbued background subtly underlines the urgency of the mission with a coolness and balance surprising for such a hot shade.
Even more unpredictably, the flame loses some critical increment of tension when surrounded by too much white without any other colors. In the identity for the AsiaNow conference, flame seems leached of its vitality when it gets progressively lighter:
Not that you can’t pair flame with colors other than black. Another twist in this uncannily versatile hue is how well it jives with a miscellany of colors, all with a slightly yellowish cast on a white background. New York’s School of Visual Art’s home page shows how flame can anchor an otherwise chatty, friendly array of colors. Here flame promises passion tempered by reason, a unity-in-diversity that lends authenticity to the whole brand. (It also resonates well with some of the other “it” colors of late, like plum, burnt-yellow and mint green – a daisy-chain of accents.)
The flame is spreading. In an uncanny echo of SVA, its cross-borough rival school, Parsons’ web design also features flame, as does the website for the 2010 Salone Internazionale del Mobile, the globally acclaimed furniture-design fair now humming in Milan.
Color trends move like flash-fires among graphic designers. Unlike designers of physical products, there’s no need to agonize over fabric supplies or consumer taste-forecasting months (or years) in advance of sinking an investment in one color or another. Graphic designers can catch the fever of any color, any time, and put it into wider circulation almost immediately – and more hot designs will fan the flames still further. Consider designer Nick Hardeman’s infographic of motion [viavisualcomplexity.com] in Notorious B.I.G’s video for “Mo Money Mo Problems,” kicking it back to 1997 and a flame-colored jumpsuit B.I.G wears in the video:
Even with such versatility, a color that burns this bright is bound to get fatiguing. Although it can neighbor many colors successfully, if the surrounding colors get too hectic, it dials up the eye’s competition needlessly:
But mostly, flame-love among designers is high now – and for good reason. More than most shades, this color brings an assertive warmth that also steadies the eye. It’s also just plain gorgeous-in-a-bottle. Paint manufacturer Dulux’s Let’s Colour project [via weheart.co.uk] is currently touring the world, painting neglected public spaces in a riot of juicy colors. Flame’s full-tilt forward movement out of recessionary grays still feels grounded but exuberant, the right balance for a chance.
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