Is the Color Gray Taking Over the World?


What would your reaction be if I told you that color is disappearing from the world? A graph suggesting that the color gray has become the dominant shade has been circulating on TikTok, and boy does it have folks in a tizzy.

“We’re losing individuality and culture from design,” claims user @eggmcmuffinofficial in the video. “Hopefully brands will eventually get back to their individual designs and senses of style, and a big part of that is going back to using color.” In another video, Dani Dazey of Hulu’s Trixie Motel says that the diminishing color in the world means that we’re “losing personality, losing charm, losing 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 in fact disappearing from the world, then what is truly at stake? Are we really liable to lose our ability to express ourselves? To enjoy and produce culture? Is it color that we’re actually losing? Or is it something else we’ve lost?

Before I answer any of these questions, let’s take a look at the study that started this color panic. In October 2020, a non-peer-reviewed study analyzed the colors in over 7,000 photographs of objects from the Science Museum Group Collection, an archive sourced from a number of museums in the United Kingdom. These objects hailed from 21 different categories ranging “from photographic technology to time measurement, lighting to printing and writing, and domestic appliances to navigation,” and the earliest objects seem to have originated in 1800. Though the article draws a number of conclusions about color and the history of design, there is one graph in particular that has held a chokehold on the TikTok design community.

As you can see, blacks and grays account for roughly 40% of all colors found in the analyzed objects that originated in the year 2020 (compared with maybe 8% in the year 1800). This can mostly be attributed to a decreased use of wood and the introduction of materials, like plastic, along with technology, like phones and computers. The article is clear in the study’s scope: “While things appear to have become a little grayer over time, we must remember that the photographs examined here are just a sample of the objects within the collection, and the collection itself is also a non-random selection of objects.” Another major point not mentioned by the study: The sheer quantity of objects in the world today compared to 1800 is immense. So even if the percentage of gray objects has increased, the number of colorful objects has also increased exponentially. Let’s also emphasize that we are talking about consumer objects, and not the world as a whole.

Though this study is limited to a number of museum objects, a blog post by Macleod Sayer points towards the disappearance of color in other facets of life. “Even locations that used to scream with color for decades have now modernized to become boring minimalist (and I love minimalism), personality-less locations.”


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