Thoughts on Color — from a colorblind designer
My love/hate relationship with color.
Some background on my wonderful eyes before we begin — they’ve always been terrible. I’ve worn glasses since 2nd grade and basically need them all day. Otherwise, I might get uncomfortably close to everything and everyone. :)
Sometime in elementary school, I learned I was colorblind after a visit to the eye doctor. At the time I thought, “That’s silly. I know what my colors are. I just can’t read these weird dot circles.”
Throughout middle school, I didn’t notice any problems with colorblindness, which affirmed my belief that it wasn’t serious. Whenever it was revealed to others, I always passed the “test” from others of “What color is it?”
Then, everything changed w̶h̶e̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶f̶i̶r̶e̶ ̶n̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ ̶a̶t̶t̶a̶c̶k̶e̶d in high school. In addition to school subjects, I learned:
- My sister’s car was not black, but actually a dark green.
- Christmas sweaters and wrapping paper can really hurt my eyes because of dark green and red in close proximity.
- My blues in my drawings were actually dark purples.
- In Battlefield 4, I need to change the color settings or else I might shoot my teammates (accidentally) on purpose.
I probably have had at least 40 more of these interactions since then.
And each time it happens, it sucks.
Generally, people don’t like to be wrong. I don’t mind being wrong because usually that means I can learn what’s right. But in all of my weird color interactions, I’m always wrong because I am the one who has wonky eyes. And I can’t learn to see the right colors because I physically am incapable of seeing what’s right.
Still, I treat my interactions as learning opportunities by recognizing that others may have the same problems I do, which pushed me to advocate for more accessible design. I’ve researched into color combinations, best contrasting colors, colors in cultural contexts, and more because of my interactions. I now consider my colorblindness to be a strength as an aspiring user experience designer.
However, as a visual designer, I feel insecure. I was drawn into design because of color. I love colors. I love the way they exist, interact, and express. But, I don’t trust myself to communicate using colors.
Often times, I spend hours on color palettes for my design projects because I always worry that others won’t see the color I want them to see, the one that I see. If I’m really struggling, I base my colors on trusted online color schemes and patterns tied to my design’s message. I also always bounce my colors off others to see if they approve of them (feedback is great!).
Even in everyday life, I am insecure. If I see a pretty color that I like, I tend to ask someone else to identify it for me since if I call it something I might get laughed at (it’s happened...).
Because of my colorblindness, I find myself hypersensitive to the subject of color in my design work and everyday life. From the beginning of my “wrong” interactions, I have always accepted how colorblindness is and have adapted to it as best as I could. But I struggle in communicating through colors for work and everyday life.
Although I find it hard to communicate through color, I have never found it hard to appreciate color. I actually just bought an expensive IPS monitor so I can see all the colors in videos and games.
I love the way colors make me feel. That’s probably why I struggle to communicate through them, because I want to accurately capture the colors that make me feel some type of way despite my colorblindness.
But, I’m trying to communicate my colors to others and hopefully my feelings come across.