Designing for Color Blind Viewers
What does your design look like when viewed through the eyes of someone that’s color blind? Not everyone can see all colors, but they do need to be able to recognize what different colors can mean on some signs, particularly safety signs and notification signs. While accommodating color blind viewers is not yet a universal requirement to assist those with this disability, many countries do require such an accommodation. This means there is a precedent for constructing design work in this way.
If you are asked to design something for color blind viewers, it can be done. Here are some ways you can approach it.
Consider the different types of color blindness when preparing printed materials for this segment of the population:
Red, orange, and yellow don’t appear as brightly to these people. These colors may appear as black or gray to them. People with protanopia also have difficulty telling the difference between violet, blue, lavender, and purple.
People with deuteranopia cannot distinguish between red, yellow, and green. These colors all look the same to them. Unlike people with protanopia, however, they do not experience the colors appearing dimmer than they really are. They experience the full brightness of the colors they see.
If you’re not color blind, how can you experience what color blind viewers will experience? Photoshop can simulate that experience with these two proofing commands:
View > Proof Setup > Color Blindness – Protanopia Type
These commands allow you to see the way designs will look to people with the two types of color blindness listed above. Once you know how a color blind person will actually see your design, you can use all of the other Photoshop tools at your disposal to adjust the design as needed. This will help you design documents and signs that are truly viewer friendly to color blind people.
The most important thing to remember is that for most people with colorblindness, it is not so much distinguishing one color from another that is the problem, as it is differentiating between shades and brightness levels of similar colors. You can do your colorblind viewers a tremendous favor by making colors bright and never mixing gradients of shades of a color on a document or sign.
Another helpful thing for colorblind viewers is having some kind of visual texture, especially on infographics. If you are creating a graphic chart, for example, and it uses different colors, try putting some light or dark bands across some of the bars or pie wedges on your graph. Even if your colorblind users can’t distinguish the color, they will know what is what on the chart by the visual textures.
Finally, try to avoid using any signage that requires identification of something by color alone. This is a popular design trend that many people think makes things simpler, but it is a nightmare for colorblind viewers. Always include some kind of accompanying text, so if a colorblind person can’t distinguish a color, they can always read the words.
Public signs are the most common types that need color distinction to convey messages, although some private signs may rely on this, as well. Keep the differences in mind on how color blind people view various colors, whether they can see those colors at all, and how those color perceptions will impact their ability to interpret the print. Use this knowledge to design the print appropriately, and your buyer will be satisfied.