Colors of Commerce
Colors of Commerce

Colors of Commerce was a research project and accompanying exhibition focused on the colors of shipping containers in Seattle and other port cities. The show represented the most information about this niche subject that has ever been assembled in one public place.

The exhibit featured works by mostly local artists, in a variety of styles and media, that employ the limited color palette of Seattle’s downtown port, infographics designed by FICTILIS that illuminate the history and economics of the container shipping industry through an analysis of its colors, coloring activities for children using custom crayon sets, and a “Containerizer” photo booth contributed by design firm Design Less Better.

For the show, FICTILIS also conceived an ad campaign which retroactively promotes the idea of containerization – an accepted idea already in widespread use and in no need of promotion – and developed limited-edition T-shirts for the campaign which were on display at the opening. FICTILIS also produced a limited edition swatchbook of the container colors, which could be used to compare and match colors for a design or to identify shipping containers from a distance. (Some of these items can still be purchased here.)

The call for entries for the show asked artist to choose 2-4 colors from a tear-away sheet containing only the colors of the Seattle port. We didn’t say anything about where the colors came from, in hopes we would receive submissions that were not necessarily “about” ports or shipping. We wanted to de-contextualize the colors, to focus on the arbitrary constraint of the palette, in order to then re-contextualize them for the exhibit and see if they looked any different.

The colors of this project are a huge part of Seattle’s built environment. Passing the port on the Viaduct or West Seattle Bridge, we started wondering why these specific colors are organized into these palettes that are recognizable across the globe. As we researched, we found ourselves asking shipping companies questions no one had asked before, and acquiring this extremely specialized knowledge shared only with paint manufacturers and model train enthusiasts. We will continue to share this research with anyone interested in art, color, ports, or shipping. Contact us if interested.