Fifty Shades of Gray: The World Is Losing Color

Issue 3, Volume 113

By Khandaker Mushfikuzzaman 

Cover Image

Take a moment to observe the environment around you, wherever you are. Maybe you see green leaves turning to a brown-orange as fall approaches or the blue seats of the train you’re on. The vibrancy around us is something we take for granted, and while it may not be noticeable in our daily lives, the world is losing its color.

It sounds overly dramatic, but despite the richness of colors we see in nature, in the commercial world, and ultimately the “human” world, the variety of color is decreasing. Large companies began using more and more neutral, generic color in the 1980s to cater to the widest range of consumers possible. For instance, Apple mainly uses darker, neutral colors because iPhones in hot pink, for example, wouldn’t appeal to everyone.

As more and more companies switched to bland colors to accommodate everyone’s likings, the world followed along with the shift. The car industry is a prime example. Grayscale tones for cars jumped from less than 50 percent in the 1990s to more than 75 percent today. A study by the British Science Museum captured over 7,000 objects and observed the change in colors used over time. Both interior and exterior design have become more “modernized” with monochrome colors, as city buildings have become a standard gray and their interiors monotonous. This decrease is evident in the clothing industry as well. Blacks, whites, and grays are the most popular for all types of clothes. Essentially, we’re seeing this trend of significant decrease in color in all ranges of companies.

The big issue here is that color has a huge effect on the human brain. People associate different colors with different moods and feelings. In art class, colors are used to express the emotions we want to portray, as color goes further than just for aesthetic pleasure. In Swiss prisons, aggressive inmates are put into pink cells to calm them down. Bright red causes higher states of arousal. Color affects everything, from our emotions to our physical strength and even our heart rate. Things take a scary turn when we connect this effect with what studies have shown about the color gray. BMC Medical Research Methodology found that people struggling with depression and anxiety chose gray to most accurately represent what they feel. Gray is the color that has become most commercially used in the last 30 years. Connecting the dots reveals a terrifying revelation. Gray is a dull color, and too much of it causes feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Though it hasn’t been long enough to determine direct effects, it’s certainly not a good idea to wait and see how our mental health is affected as the world around us slowly turns gray. Besides the internal consequences, color is a way of expression and individuality. Movements like minimalism, which tie into the “simplicity” of neutral colors, are becoming more prominent. While minimalism can be beneficial in other aspects of life, reducing the variety of color causes less personal expression instead of advocating the appreciation of simplicity. Industries that have reduced their color usage need to start bringing back the variety in items and products as soon as possible. Even though these companies are worried about reaching a greater number of customers, they can still do so with a more varied and colorful collection of items. People love having options, and not everyone wants the gray that most companies have defaulted to. It shouldn’t be a loss of profit for sellers to produce colorful items if variety will attract more consumers. Further, this limited availability is causing the supposed “popularity” of toned-down hues. If this popularity increases, it’ll influence more and more companies to lessen the color in their products. Even though that consequence may not be as apparent in all current stores, the facts state that we are slowly but surely losing color.

The vibrancy in the environments we pass through, from our home to school to the outside world, and all the things within them creates a richness in life itself. Diversity and variety are needed in all aspects of the world, and color is no exception.