Serif in Education

The importance of a design world in colour

Colour plays a critical part in the world.  And in design.  There are books on colour theory for optimum use, background on primary, secondary, and tertiary colours.  And companies pay thousands of pounds on their marketing to ensure their colours and look of their logo and branding are visually appealing to their target market. 

Colour in humans can create emotions and perceptions that are far wider and far more complex than what we just visually find appealing.  Red, for example, has connotations of anger and judgement (for example, in marking, a teacher will most often mark in red rather than another colour).  Green has the feel of something that’s close to the earth – environmentally friendly or healthy for example.  Blue gives the feeling of calmness, like the sea, and is often associated with the air or spa products.

But whilst a designers job is to think about colours that may closely align a product or service, and how this fits and looks good in design, there are other factors that affect colour in design which may not be so apparent, but are equally as important. 

Designers, businesses in general and educational establishments may not be aware that the materials and design work they produce are not suitable for colour blind people, and that in fact the message they are getting across to their viewers is not as they had imagined. And this applies to computing students too!

Students as part of Key stage 3 and 4 computing must undertake creative projects that involve selecting, using, and combining multiple applications, preferably across a range of devices.  They must consider a multitude of design elements to ensure their audiences perceive their project in the way they intend. 

The target audience may not in fact even be able to read the work they produce.  Websites in particular are not always suitable for those that are colour blind.

Colour blindness (colour vision deficiency, or CVD) affects approximately 1 in 12 men (8%) and 1 in 200 women in the world. In Britain this means that there are approximately 2.7 million colour blind people (about 4.5% of the entire population), most of whom are male.

According to Colour Blind Awareness, an organization formed to raise awareness of the needs of the colour blind in the community, most colour blind people are able to see things as clearly as other people but they unable to fully ‘see’ red, green or blue light. There are different types of colour blindness which vary in extremeness.  Some rare cases occur where people are unable to see any colour at all.

And the issue is not just an issue in the workplace but also amongst pupils in schools.  Approximately 40% of colour blind pupils leaving secondary school are unaware that they are colour blind.  And 60% of sufferers will experience many problems in everyday life.

As Colour Blind Awareness points out, currently in the UK the Government doesn’t support colour blind children in schools because they don’t feel it is a Special Educational Need. Teachers are currently not given any training on the issue of colour blindness or upon how to treat colour blind children in a school environment. 

In addition, secondary and further education, computers and the internet are widely used as are coloured graphs and charts, which can be a challenge.

It is difficult for students to even begin to think about how we would design something in their “eyes”.  However, there are tools in place which can hopefully make this process easier for designers, and also for students.

A great example of an online tool which can be used to check digital work against so we can see how colour blind people would view it is You simply save your work as a jpeg, png or gif file format and you can see immediately how others may view your work (and it’s free!). 

In DrawPlus, part of the Serif Design Suite, there is a special colour palette creator, which lets students generate a palette of colours from any image and use those colours throughout their document.  This is great for keeping a consistent corporate style for print or web graphics.  But students can also use the Coblis Color Blind Simulator on their website to see which colours can be seen, and if so create a colour palette that works with a colour blind person in mind. 

There are also other special features to help get the best out of the other images that may be incorporated in their work, such as brighten and contrast features in PhotoPlus to enhance any photos used or clarity filters and grain filters.  Whilst not directly related to colour blindness, this could also just help make outlines of shapes and photos clearer if the colours all appear the same.

One way that documents can be modified to also help is by adding image maps and rollovers to digital imagery.  This is a handy feature in WebPlus which would allow children to roll over with a mouse and then interpret what they are seeing instead of being isolated because they cannot understand the lesson or website they are viewing for example.

The positive news is that there are ways that colour blindness can be less of an issue if things are designed and presented in the correct way.  And the workplace is becoming slowly more aware.

Ordnance Survey has recently introduced colour-blind ‘friendy’ online mapping to ensure not only that their products are more accessible to the colour blind but also to ensure that they minimize their exposure to litigation on grounds of discrimination. A great step forward for colour blind communities.

So what we have learned is that there is one more thing to think about when designing websites, printed materials and other graphics, but one less barrier for colour blind people.  That has to be only a good thing.

Do you suffer from colour blindness?  Let us know if you have any other clever design tips that help on Twitter @serifeducation