How Can We Make Design Better for the Colour-Blind?

How Can We Make Design Better for the Colour-Blind?

As a Graphic Designer my life has always been full of colour and I have never thought about colour-blindness before, until I met my partner. I could not completely understand at first how he could understand the colours.

So I started doing a bit of research to get a better understanding of what colour-blindness is and I started thinking more of what colours to use in my designs to make in order to avoid colour blindness pitfalls

Colour blindness is a vision deficiency that affects a large number of people around the world. Whether we know it or not, we as designers have a great impact on their daily lives through the work that we create and put out all around us. That being the case, I believe that we should take a few moments and explore some simple yet effective solutions that could help improve their situation and thus the quality of their lives.

What Is Color? A Brief Definition

Before we can completely understand what color blindness is, we should first take a couple of moments and talk about colour, what it is, and how it behaves.

According to Google, the noun colour is defined as:

“the property possessed by an object of producing different sensations on the eye as a result of the way it reflects or emits light”.

Now, light itself is made out of multiple colours that have different wavelengths, where red is the longest one that humans can see, while violet is the shortest.

We know this since in 1666 Sir Isaac Newton put together a little experiment in which he took a beam of white sunlight and passed it through a glass prism. What he observed must have been incredible at that moment since the prism split the beam into a band of seven composing colors which he called the “spectrum”. The order of these colors from the lower end of the spectrum is violet (V)indigo (I)blue (B)green (G)yellow (Y)orange (O), and red (R)—which we now call ROYGBIV.

How Do Our Eyes “See” Colour?

Depending on its physical properties (light absorption, emission spectra, etc.), an object can individually reflect or absorb these seven colors more or less, giving it the property that we call color.

So when we say we see a specific colour, we actually see the amount of colour reflected by the surface of an object when it’s being hit by a light source. When an object reflects all the wavelengths, we see it as being white; when it absorbs them all, it is black.

What Is Colour Blindness?

We now have a basic idea of what color is, but what is color blindness?

Well, many people think that being color blind means you see the world in black and white, but that’s not actually true.

As the online version of the Medical Dictionary points out, color blindness is:

“an abnormal condition characterized by the inability to clearly distinguish different colors of the spectrum”.

A person that is color blind is usually born with this condition, which is determined by a faulty gene found within the X chromosome.

Colour Blind Awareness states that the condition affects approximately 1 in every 12 men (8%) and 1 in every 200 women around the world.

How Do You Know If You’re Colour Blind?

If you want to make sure that your eyes are functioning correctly, you should always go visit an optometrist.
But the image below will give you a hint to identify if you are colour blind or not.

If you see the number 74 in the image on the right, you’re in the clear.

If you see a 21 (or nothing), then I’ve got some bad news for you: you are red-green color blind.

It is important to understand that colour blindness does not equate seeing in black and white. That is monochromacy, which is extremely rare. In fact, colour blindness typically refers to a reduced ability to distinguish between shades of certain colours — most commonly reds and greens; less commonly, blues and yellows.

These colours tend to blend into one another, resulting in perceptions that may look something like this:

The left version of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe grid has normal coloration; the right version is adjusted to mirror how a red-green color blind person might see it

You’re not colour blind, but you still need to consider a colour blind audience

As a normally sighted person, it’s hard to imagine what my work is going to look like to a colour blind eye. And yet, this can make a tremendous impact.

You wouldn’t want your logo to consist of colours that are clashing or indistinguishable to a colour blind audience, either, would you? Or worse, a logo that is entirely invisible — as with some of the ones below:

These were apparently logos for 1) Bill Gardner, 2) Dennis Murphy, 3) Razoo and 4) Crema Cafe. None of them carries a particularly positive association for a color blind viewer, but 2 and 3 are difficult or even impossible to read!

Conclusion

Whether we realize it or not, colour blindness is a condition that affects a large number of people out there, making their daily lives harder by limiting the things they can see and understand through the filter of color.

Luckily, there are several things that we as designers can do in order to improve the quality of their life, thus making things a little easier one step at a time.

I really hope you, either as a designer or business owner found it useful and opened your eyes to an area of design that is often overlooked.

Need some help with your design? Drop me an email: contact@iris.graphics

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