How to design for color blindness to be inclusive

Updated: May 20, 2022

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About 15% of the global population experiences some kind of disability. Bearing that in mind, many companies already invest in developing more inclusive user experiences. Among many other possibilities, learning how to design for color blindness is something relatively simple that can be an important step toward more accessible marketing. 

More than publicizing diversity in their campaigns, businesses need to apply it in their actions. What can you do to communicate with a greater variety of people?

Inclusive design goes beyond creating specific products for disabled people. It implies creating something everyone can experience — no matter how different they are from each other. 

Keep on reading and deepen your knowledge about:

  • Inclusive design.
  • Color blindness.
  • Designing for color blindness. 

Inclusive design

It has been a while since we understood the importance of human-centered marketing, which means the user is — or at least should be — at the center of any marketing decision. It comprehends design decisions as well. However, focusing on our persona can go way beyond thinking mobile-first or designing for millennials, as one may assume — and yes, it is still very easy to leave lots of people behind. 

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That is why inclusive design was born. This segment praises designers to consider impaired people while developing any user experience, whether online or not. These impairments vary in degree, and may even be temporary but must not be forgotten.

At first, this might be challenging for anyone who works with development, since it applies restrictions but it is also possible to look at it from a brighter point of view since it encourages more creativity.

Look, for example, this Subway map from NY for color blindness. It is beautiful and inclusive at the same time:

Color Blind Subway Map From Visually.

About 15% of the world population experience some form of disabilitywhich accounts for nearly one billion people. It does not matter if your business is small, medium, or large: you cannot afford to create some sort of communication or even develop a product that lacks the potential to reach those people. 

When we think about including disabled people, accessibility is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Although designing sidewalks, store entrances, and bathrooms to welcome a wheelchair is important, it is not even close to being enough.

Language, interface, controls, and data visualization presentation are a few other things that should be on your mind when designing for everyone — really everyone. 

Color blindness

There are around 3 million color-blinded people around the world, a figure relatively close to the entire population of the United States. On the contrary to common sense, color-blinded people can see color. However, they face a hard time to identify some specific color, especially green and red, and sometimes orange and gray — all of which tend to be seen in a brown spectrum. 

If you are willing to develop a more inclusive design, it might be worthwhile to understand more about this condition, so keep on reading and get the answers to some of the more frequently asked questions on the topic. 

What is it?

Also known as color vision deficiency (CVD), color blindness is a defect in the retina: the tissue in the back of the eye, responsible for processing images and identifying color variations. In color blinded people, the retina does not respond properly to the received light. It leads to difficulties that can vary from differentiating colors (in moderate cases) to impairing people to distinguish colors at all (in more severe cases). 

What are its causes? 

Most color blindness cases are genetic and inherited by the mother’s side of the family, although men are more prone to it when compared to women. This means most color blinded people are already born with this condition and can get to diagnosis early on during childhood. 

Trauma to the eye and the progression of other long-term diseases — such as Parkinson’s, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or any other eye disease — can also develop into color-blindness cases.

What are the types? 

There are three well-documented types of color blindness. The human eye needs to use three different light cone types to process every color there is. If at least one of them is faulty, this person already faces some level of color-blindness. Let’s dig in a little in each one of them:  

  • Protanopia: these people present a reduced sensitivity to red light, which tends to be seen in green or brownish tones.
  • Deuteranopia: in this case, individuals have a hard time perceiving green light, meaning that they either cannot see it at all or see it in a yellowish tone — this is the most common type of color-blindness.
  • Tritanopia: this type of color-blindness is extremely rare and these people have difficulties telling blue and yellow lights apart. 

Did you know these people are color-blinded?

As we could already learn, color-blindness affects millions of people worldwide. People born with this condition face difficulties identifying colors, so our marketing and communication assets must think about them to be more accessible. However, apart from that, they can live a pretty normal life. 

Many famous, important, and influential people are color blinded, such as Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg; royal family member, Prince Williams; actor Eddie Redmayne; and former president of the United States Bill Clinton. 

Designing for color blindness

What happens when a design is experienced in a different way than the one intended? If you still do not use an inclusive design approach at your job, there are great chances this is happening to your work right now. 

You should bear in mind that we do not intend for you to apply double the effort when creating a design — on the contrary! The goal is not to design to this specific audience but consider them when designing so that it can be accessible for everyone

More than thinking about website templates, this mindset should also be put in practice when designing other online content, such as infographics, charts, and graphs, all of which tend to rely on color to convey different information. 

Limit the color palette  

Color-blinded people have trouble differentiating colors, but they distinguish shades just fine. That is why it is more than ok to combine highly contrasting colors in a design, and using a limited color palette helps to keep it clean and simple.  

Also, a monochromatic approach would not be such a bad idea, since it restricts the possibility of using a bad combination of colors. If you have concerns regarding the aesthetics quality of your work, there are other features you can add on to convey all the information that needs to be passed on, which we will cover later on on this text. 

Avoid combining red and green

When designing charts, red and green should not be used together. Although these are generally the most used marks for representing good vs. bad or positive vs. negative, many color-blinded people tend to see both of them as brown — especially those who present a severe condition of the disease. 

It is still possible to combine those colors if readers can rely on other visual aids besides the color. It can be done by adding appropriate labels and/or presenting information in separate graphs, for example.

Rely on symbols

As we were saying, users need to count on more than just colors to encode information. Icons and arrows are a good way to convey information at a glance and to diminish the importance of the color role in the design. 

This tip can be very useful when designing an infographic, for example, since symbols are also a way to make this type of content more visually appealing as well as with a limited word count. Alongside shades and icons, textures and patterns can replace color or work just as well.  

Walk on their shoes

Empathy is a trendy word in the marketing context right now. How about we take it from discourse theory and apply it daily? To make sure you are following at least all basic tips, you can check some of Google Extension plug-ins that simulate color-blindness so you can see what this audience will be seeing. Also, it is important to know and follow proper guidelines.

Trends like sustainability, gender neutrality, sexual orientation diversity, and people with disability inclusion are no longer differentiators. They are already expected by the audience each day more. Marginalized groups have now raised their voices to demand what they truly deserve. Understand how to design for color blindness may seem like a simple gesture but it is something that can make a difference. 

Want to add such design features to your next campaign? We surely can help! Reach out to us and get a quote right away!


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