4 Essential Tips for the Color-Blind Designer

Posted on July 3, 2017 | Updated on January 25, 2023

There are several different types of color vision deficiency. Red-green is the most common form of color blindness, impacting as many as 8% of men and .5% of women. With red-green color blindness, the person might not see these colors the same as someone without color blindness and have trouble discerning which is which. There is also blue-yellow and complete color blindness. Being color blind should not limit a person from doing nearly anything they want to do. However, a color-blind designer is going to have to make some adaptations to account for the limited vision of those colors.

Successful Color-Blind Designers

If your heart’s desire is to do design work, but you’re not sure of your abilities because of color vision limitations, the good news is that there are already some successful color-blind designers out there.

Matej Latin is one designer who is color blind, but he has found this actually works to his advantage by spotting things that don’t complement one another or where the contrast needs to be improved.

He tells of a design where there was a green button on a red background, and it actually made his eyes ache. The other designer working with him switched the design to grayscale and immediately saw the contrast issues. The designer without color blindness couldn’t spot the problem the way Matej had.

Abhinav Sharma, Product Designer at Quora, is a successful color-blind designer. He explains that most of the time his red-green color blindness isn’t a big deal, and, the few times it is, he is able to ask for help with figuring out those colors and what works best. The key is knowing which colors are challenging and being proactive in getting help.

There are some tips that can help you if you are a color-blind designer or thinking about getting into design despite your visual impairment.

Tip 1: Embrace Monochrome

As a color blind person yourself, you fully understand how difficult it is for the color blind person to fully see and appreciate a range of colors. Designing both for a regular vision audience and a color-blind audience may be challenging. One way to overcome this is to design with a single color — but in different hues, of course.

So, if you choose a light blue background, you would use much darker blue for the text on the page. Just be careful that you stay on the same line on your color wheel so the colors do not clash with one another, something you may have a hard time seeing as you design.

Tip 2: Leverage the Color Wheel

One tool that can really help you figure out what colors to use — even when you can’t see them — is a color wheel. A color wheel will show you colors in the same family as well as complementary colors — those across the wheel from one another.

Once you’ve chosen a couple of colors for your pallet, you can then use an app such as Coolers to figure out what colors look best with your main one or two colors. This program allows you to simply hit the spacebar and the system will generate a random color scheme.

Even if you can’t fully appreciate the hues, you will be able to easily tell if they are light or dark colors, what should be used as background and what should be used as buttons or text. Adobe also offers a Color Wheel that can help you choose the best colors for your site.

Tip 3: Create Contrast

One way to make your site more usable and easier to read for everyone, color blind or not, is to use high contrast. It helps you create a color scheme that makes reading the text simple. Not only can it help those who are color blind, but it’s a boon anyone who spends a lot of time reading things on the computer and may suffer eye strain.

The simplest way to explain good contrast levels is to look at black and white. Black text on a white background is very easy to see. Why? Because there is a high level of contrast between black and white. On the other hand, if you put yellow text on a white background, the contrast will be low and people will have a tough time reading it.

This is a good rule of thumb for any color-blind designer to stick to. A deep hunter green over the palest of mint greens will work well, for example.

Tip 4: Ask for Help

Sometimes, no matter how many tools you use and how hard you try, you simply won’t be able to tell if a color is working. If a client insists on pink and gray in the design, and you just can’t tell the difference between gray and pink, then it is time to call in reinforcements.

Do the initial design and then call a trusted colleague to check your contrast and make sure everything fits within a visually pleasing palette.

There is no reason that being color blind should hold you back from designing if that is what you love to do. Be aware of your limitations. Ask for extra help when you need it. Your unique way of looking at the world will bring benefits to your clients that another designer might not offer.

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at www.eleanorhecks.com.

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