Being a Color Blind Designer

How discovering my Red-Green color blindness changed my workflow

That’s right, I said it:

I’m a Designer with Red-Green Color Blindness.

It took my a long time to own this and feel comfortable sharing this in my career, so ✊.

Here’s an example of how I found out one day at the eye doctor getting contacts:

Color Blindness Visual Test

To some, the above image is a picture of numbers inside of circles. To others, including me, it’s just a group of colorful mosaic patterns. Actually, I can see about 50% of the numbers shown here. This is why I have partial color blindness and not complete. Being RG color blind doesn’t mean I can’t see color, it means that some wavelengths of certain colors are hard to distinguish. Hence not being able to see the subtle differences enough to recognize the numerals in the image above.

There are many types of color blindness, which you can read more about here. It’s also more common in men than women. I suggest you do some color vision tests to see if you also have any deficiencies.

“There’s nothing wrong vision impairments or any type of impairments, but it might help you understand how you see the world differently than others.”

This was the biggest realization for me discovering this new thing about myself, and what had the biggest impact on who I was as a person and in my career as a designer.

Looking at the world differently

In general, there’s a lot of value in understanding and accepting that other people see and experience the world, life, products, and relationships differently than you do. Knowing this and figuring out how to work with it will help you in any work industry or experience in life. The fact that other people work differently than you is perfectly fine and what makes us all unique (DUH) but work together to do great things.

For me, as a designer with partial color blindness, has helped me realize that there are ways to design a product to work well for nearly everyone. I recently started paying more attention to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG for purposes of meeting those guidelines to design for users with accessibility needs. There are design tools out there that help make this easier when choosing things like color. One that I use which has been great for my process is Contrast. Other tools and frameworks are building in accessibility as well, such as Bootstrap 4 and it’s use of ARIA for people using screen readers.

Own who you are

At first, for many years, I was afraid to tell anyone I worked with, especially my immediate employers that I had any sort of color blindness. I guess as someone who works with colors constantly, you feel you are expected to see slight contrast between shades of colors perfectly. But that’s not true. Actually, having this visual impairment helps me to design for people like me, and when I there isn’t enough contrast for me to see things clearly, then other people with similar or worse impairments most likely can’t as well.

After reading more about designing for accessibility and the important role it plays in creating friendly and useful interfaces and products, I decided to own this part about me. I put it in my Twitter bio. I began telling people I worked with. I even told a potential employer in an interview. It turned out that the CTO I was talking with also has red-green color blindness. We discussed how it affects people differently and how it actually benefits me to have it so that it can be more considered in the design process.

No matter what is different about you, don’t be afraid to share it. People who don’t accept it, embrace it, or figure out how to use that unique feature to benefit what you do are not the people you want to surround yourself with. So embrace your differences and shout them to the world!

Like 2 Chainz said, “I’m different, yeah I’m different.”

If you need a safe place to talk about any sort of difficult topics, check out FriendsAnonymous. I’m also happy to have a conversation regarding something similar or anything you might be going through.

I’m on Twitter or you can email me at derektorsani(at)gmail(dot)com.

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