Is the color gray taking over the world?
How would you react if I told you that color is disappearing from the world? A graphic suggesting the color gray has become the dominant hue has been circulating on TikTok, and boy does it have people in awe.
“We are losing individuality and design culture,” user @eggmcmuffinofficial claims in the video. “I hope brands will eventually come back to their individual designs and sense of style, and a lot of that comes down to the use of color.” In another video, Dani Dazey of Hulu’s Trixie Motel says that the decreasing color in the world means that we “lose our personality, lose our charm, lose our uniqueness”. She urges us to “stop living in boring black and white and choose color”. Countless comments and other videos share the sentiment that lack of color spells tragedy.
If color is disappearing from the world, then what is really at stake? Are we really likely to lose our ability to express ourselves? Enjoying and producing culture? Is it the color that we really lose? Or is it something else that we have lost?
Before we answer any of these questions, let’s take a look at the study that sparked this color panic. In October 2020, a non-peer-reviewed study analyzed the colors of over 7,000 photographs of objects from the Science Museum Group Collection, an archive from several museums in the UK. These objects came from 21 different categories ranging “from photographic technology to the measurement of time, from lighting to printing and writing, and from household appliances to navigation”, and the first objects seem to have seen the day in 1800. While the article draws a number of conclusions about color and design history, there is one graphic in particular that has stifled the TikTok designer community.
As you can see, blacks and grays make up about 40% of all colors found in analyzed objects originating in the year 2020 (compared to perhaps 8% in 1800). This can mainly be attributed to a reduced use of wood and the introduction of materials, such as plastic, as well as technologies, such as telephones and computers. The article is clear in the scope of the study: “While things seem to have clouded a little over time, it should be remembered that the photographs examined here are only a sample of the objects in the collection, and that the collection itself is also a non-random selection of objects. Another major point not mentioned by the study: the quantity of objects in the world today compared to 1800 is immense. So, even though the percentage of gray objects has increased, the number of colored objects has also increased exponentially. Also note that we are talking about consumer items, not the world as a whole.
Although this study is limited to a number of museum objects, a blog post by Macleod Sayer points to the disappearance of color in other facets of life. “Even places that used to scream with color for decades have now modernized into boring minimalist places (and I love minimalism), places with no personality.”