Seeing Red

This week, David Ward explains how a little extra thought could go a long way for some of our prospective clients.

I am colour blind. To be honest, I am so colour blind that my 6-year-old daughter takes great pleasure in telling me I’m getting my reds, greens and browns, my blues, purples, pinks and greys all of a muddle. As we sit down to do some drawing together, more often than not the scene taking shape on the page is eclipsed by the alien-looking purple sky or dry, parched-looking brown grass as though some prolonged drought has been in full swing for several months. I’ve lost count of the number of fouls I’ve given away playing snooker when I’ve inadvertently potted the brown thinking it was a red. I’ve long since given up looking for red tees against the green grass on the golf course. I long ago got used to the strange looks that shop assistants give me when I ask them what colour a particular item of clothing is. In short, it’s a frustrating problem. However, it’s hardly a life threatening one and to my nearest and dearest it’s a source of some entertainment.

Depending on where you look for the figures, between 8% and 12% of the male population are colour blind to some extent and a very small proportion of females are affected. One way of testing for colour blindness is the Ishihara test. Here are a few examples from that test.

What can you see? For the record I can see a 25 in the first circle. In the other three circles I see dots and nothing else. In the other three circles I should be able to see the number 45, the number 8 and the number 6.

I’m no expert on eye-related problems so I tried to find a simple explanation of the reason for colour blindness and provided a good one, I think.

Colour blindness is a result of certain cones on the retina misinterpreting the wavelengths that correspond to their respective colours. Red, green and blue colours have corresponding wavelengths. Red wavelengths are longest, green colours generate medium wavelengths, and blue colours are made of shorter wavelengths. If the green cones, for example, only respond to slightly longer wavelengths, green will be interpreted by the brain as red.

I don’t need to tell you that the web is an established way of advertising, reaching new customers and selling products, but how much consideration is given to the design of the colour schemes? Being faced with a website that hasn’t used a well-thought-out colour scheme that takes us colour blind folks into consideration could be costing you. For example, according to the last census in 2001 there were 28.6 million males in the UK, and with around 12% of males being colour blind that’s potentially 3.4 million males that may be put off from using a website purely because of its colour design.

The message for my Thursday Night Insight this week is simple. Although it’s often not a serious issue, please don’t forget about people like me that struggle when it comes to the world of colours and making distinctions between them. It’s not a difficult thing to take into consideration and there are 3.4 million in the UK alone that may just thank you for it.

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