Colorblindness and Graphic Design

Published by Martin Communications

Colorblindness by definition is the inability to distinguish between certain colors. It’s estimated that about 8% of males and 0.5% of females are born colorblind. That may seem like a low number, but as graphic designers for a large audience, it is vital we create designs that are usable for over ten out of every hundred people who are colorblind.

Fortunately there are widely applicable generalizations about what colorblind users do and do not have trouble perceiving. We look at the following parameters to help ensure that we design so that most colorblind users can effectively use a site rather than only a single type.

It is very important to accommodate EVERYONE when picking out hues, shades and tints for our clients for the brand standards we develop. We look at HUES: which are base colors. Then we evaluate SHADES that are simply the color black added to HUES. Finally we consider TINTS that are the color white added to HUES.

The colors above are an example of how we would normally adjust for colorblind people.

There are three terms for the types of colorblindness that affect people: 1. Deuteranomaly: a reduced sensitivity to green light (and most common); 2. Protanopia: a reduced sensitivity to red light; and 3. Tritanopia: a reduced sensitivity to blue light (the most rare form of color blindness.)

Below are examples of the types of colorblindness that affect people and how certain images are seen by those who are colorblind:

By mixing similar shades in design, a colorblind user will either not notice or could become frustrated in reading the message. To prevent a design from being totally unusable by the colorblind we refrain from overlapping shades of colors that have similar brightness values but have the potential to seriously clash. Reds and blues, purples and reds, pinks and blues and almost any combination of these are examples of what we avoid.

The best way to make designs work for colorblind people is to look for ways to add contrast. By using highly contrasting colors, implementing patterns, applying symbols, and using strokes and shadows, we ensure there is significant visual difference in all the right places.

Because our designers are experienced with designing for all audiences, this is not something we spend a lot of time and focus on, however it is something we are very cognizant of when we are talking with clients about color or suggesting colors for design.

For more information check out Martin Communications.

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