Inclusive Color Palettes for the Web

My mission to create color palettes that are appealing AND accessible.

Allison Ofisher
May 18, 2018 · 4 min read
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Data Visualizations

While it’s common practice at Pixo to check color contrast for optimal readability, we don’t always prioritize comparing each color’s distinction from one another. But color distinction becomes a high priority when designing data visualizations, which rely on the variations between color to represent different categories of information.

To create truly inclusive software, we need to ensure our color palettes are designed for all types of viewers.

Prevalence of Color Blindness

According to the National Eye Institute, there are three main types of color blindness: red-green, blue-yellow, and total color blindness. The most common type is red-green color blindness (protanomaly, protanopia, deuteranomaly, deuteranopia). Blue-yellow and complete color blindness are rarer (tritanomaly, tritanopia, cone monochromacy, achromatopsia).

My Challenge

For a particular data visualization project at Pixo, I turned to the web in search of some existing color palettes for data visualization that were distinct enough for all types of color vision experiences. Overall the options were disappointing and not always visually complementary.

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Sketch and Stark plugin
  • Each color must be visually distinguishable from one another for each of the 8 color blindness deficiencies: protanopia, protanomaly, deuteranopia, deuteranomaly, tritanopia, tritanomaly, achromatopsia, achromatomaly.
  • The colors in each palette should be both distinct yet visually appealing for all viewers.

The Inclusive Color Palettes

Palette 1

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How Palette 1 is viewed with various color blindness deficiencies

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How Palette 2 is viewed with various color blindness deficiencies

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How Palette 3 is viewed with various color blindness deficiencies

The Takeaways

  • Whenever I ran into two colors looking too similar, I found it was because their contrast levels were very similar.
  • The trick for using red and green together is making sure there is a strong variation in contrast levels. For example, I used a very vibrant highly saturated green and a muted red.
  • Along the way I found that Coolors.co has a wonderful feature for changing between color blindness deficiencies.
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Coolors.co color blindness filter

Next Steps

This is just the beginning of my inclusive color palette work; I hope to gather feedback on the success of these from varying users with color blindness. In the meantime, I would love to hear about your own challenges, tools, and success stories when creating accessible color palettes for the web!


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