Meet the Seattle-area Woman Behind Pantone’s 2020 Color of the Year

By Ariel Shearer

December 5, 2019

Pantone Color Institute executive director Leatrice Eiseman studies the world to bring us more color

This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Image Credit: 

Hayley Young

This article appears in print in the December 2019 issue. Click here to subscribe.

Love a color and it will love you back—that’s Leatrice Eiseman’s advice. But the color consultant, author and executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, a leader in color trend forecasting that annually selects the Pantone Color of the Year, knows not everyone will love the 2020 color—Classic Blue, announced in early December—and that’s OK, as long as it sparks conversation.

“You can gain some interesting insights about people when they start telling you why they like a color, why they dislike a color,” Eiseman says, surrounded by comforting earth tones and pops of vibrant purple in her Bainbridge Island living room.

Eiseman realized the power of color at an early age, when her mother allowed her to choose what shade to paint her childhood bedroom. That experience of self-expression sparked a lifetime interest in the way individuals relate to color, which led Eiseman to obtain a psychology degree and counseling certificate. She honed her aesthetic expertise while working in the fashion and design industries, and later wrote her first book on color, which caught the attention of Pantone and launched her career in color consulting in the ’80s. These days, she even teaches classes and leads seminars through her personal consultancy, the Eiseman Center for Color Information and Training.

Eiseman says there isn’t an algorithm for determining the color of the year. The process is part prediction, ascertaining a bellwether of product and fashion design trends, and part suggestion, giving a nudge toward conversations or feelings that could benefit society at large.

To help make the annual decision, Eiseman starts collecting clues more than a year in advance. She visits art galleries and museums while traveling the world to attend trade shows and talks; tracks colors as they glide down fashion runways; and even keeps an eye on NASA.

Sociopolitical climate plays a role as well, and Eiseman says the Pantone Color Institute has embraced the power of its platform to spark conversation about pressing issues beyond color. Last year, it chose “Living Coral” as the 2019 Color of the Year, in part for its aesthetic appeal and for the growing popular acceptance of the orange family of colors, but also for its contribution to an international dialogue about global warming.

“Today, it’s hard not to find something of social significance that colors are attached to,” Eiseman says.

Vital Stats

Recasting the Emerald City
Seattle is known as the Emerald City, but Eiseman says she’d move us closer to blue, into the teal range “with depth and mystery”—a nod to the water that surrounds us.

Gray area
Eiseman moved to Washington from sunny Los Angeles in the ’90s, and says Seattle’s signature gray skies are much more conducive to color matching. In full sun, “we have to squint in order to look at the color and see it clearly. When you have the light that we have here in Seattle, you can look at it with wide-open eyes.”

The color of the new millennium
In 2000, the institute named a comforting “Cerulean Blue”—the color of a clear sky—as the inaugural Pantone Color of the Year, to evince the optimism of a new millennium.

Contact senior editor Ariel Shearer at or follow her on Twitter at @arielshearer.

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