Despite the stereotypical all-black architect’s dress code, architects use color every day, especially to explain our work to others. How, then, can we accommodate the ten percent of all men (and a much smaller percentage of women) in the US who have some form of color blindness?
Compare the color picker from Photoshop, on the left, to what a person with deuteranopia (an extreme form of color blindness) sees, on the right:
Our distinctive green-and-orange casework scheme loses a bit of its contrast. Too bad, but it’s not a functional problem.
Here’s the Boston MBTA system map:
If your destination is on the blue or green line, you could be in real trouble!
There’s a clue here, though. The red and orange lines have become the same color, but they are different in terms of brightness, so it’s still possible to tell them apart.
With a little work, you can pick a color palette that is pleasing for normally-sighted audiences, while still legible for those with colorblindness. Here’s a chart from a recent project:
This is important to think about in the buildings we produce, too. This accent wall in another project retains its interest even to someone who is unable to see red:
Even better, this wall in the same project is almost universally visible:
Colorblindness at the Movies
Some people complain that Hollywood movies suffer from a “Teal and Orange Madness,” but maybe they’re just practicing CUD-compliant filmmaking. Look at this chart of colors in film trailers:
At first glance, maybe architecture can learn something from Transformers? Certainly these trailers will be just as understandable to colorblind and non-colorblind audiences alike. Maybe it’s a good thing that Hollywood only likes to use two colors!
It’s easy to check how you’re doing. There are iPhone apps that simulate colorblind vision, so you can get a real-time look at anything you’re working on just by looking at it with your phone. Photoshop and other programs also have Color Universal Design (CUD) proofing modes. You can also upload any image to color blindness simulation websites and see how they will appear.
It’s possible to use a full spectrum of colors while still being legible to all audiences, just by using brightness and darkness, as well as color. In other words, there’s no need to compromise good design when you make it accessible to everyone.