In defense of the world’s ugliest color

June 10, 2016
Alisson Clark
color theory

Our color-theory expert helps you see the beauty in Pantone 448 C

The brownish-olive color known as Pantone 448 C has taken a beating since Australian experts named it the world’s ugliest, recommending it for cigarette packaging to make tobacco products less appealing. But Margaret Portillo, chair of the University of Florida’s interior-design department and interim associate dean of the College of Design, Construction and Planning, thinks the color deserves another look.

“I would take issue with this being the ugliest color in the world. It’s all about context,” Portillo said.

In the context of something you’d ingest, you have good reason to avoid it.

“We’re hard-wired to avoid things that might hurt or even prove fatal to us. If you see a strawberry tinged with this color, it might suggest the growth of decay and mold,” she said. “You wouldn’t want to put it in your mouth.”

Not so in other settings, Portillo says – in fact, you can probably find the color all around you, looking good on its own or working in the background to make other hues pop.

Not so bad, is it? “If you had this color in velvet on an art moderne club chair, it would convey panache, elegance, sophistication. As the background wall color for an art collection, it can be a rich neutral that makes saturated hues sing.”

And if the color proves effective at making cigarette packaging unappealing, Portillo can imagine taking it even further. Instead of making cigarettes white, with its connotations of youth and freshness, why not make them olive drab, too?

“If the cigarettes themselves had a green, muddy tint to them, they might be a lot less appealing.” 

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