A quick and dirty design solution for colorblindness

Did you know there are several different kinds of colorblindness? Some people are completely colorblind, while others are only unable to see red and green, or blue and yellow. Wikipedia states that in the United States alone, about 7% of the male population (around 10.5 million men) has some degree of colorblindness. For this reason, a good design should not rely on color contrast alone to communicate information.

Luckily, there’s a very quick test for seeing if your slides will have sufficient contrast for someone who’s colorblind to be able to understand it. Under the View menu in PowerPoint, there should be an option for Grayscale. By selecting this option, all hues will be removed from the image and you’ll see something akin to total colorblindness. You can now inspect your slides to see if all of the information is still understandable and readable. (You can also achieve the same effect by opening the Print dialog box and choosing grayscale.)

If your design is readable in grayscale, congratulations. Well done. If some elements are unclear or hard to read, you need to find different ways to convey your information.

Color Saturation

One good way to make color contrasts show up in grayscale is to play around with the saturation of the colors. Variations of the same hue will still be visible in grayscale due to differences in saturation, as you can see in the two slides below. If your color choices are not visible in grayscale, play around with the colors until they look good both ways.

These five blues are all shades or tints of the same hue...

...and they're still distinguishable in grayscale.

This is just a real quick solution for identifying and solving design issues related to colorblindness. I’m sure there are other solutions out there. What methods do you use?

  • http://blog.jochmann.me Jakob

    One of my friends is color blind. I still get irritated on the football pitch when I imagine how he manages telling people apart from afar some times. We get so dependant on our visual cues, we tend to forget there are other ways to differentiate.

    So in design I go for the value column in the HSV-color model as well. Plus I avoid green/red contrasts and if I do fall back on color coding (like the established green on the “push to open” signs and red on pull) I make sure that shape and text of objects are never ambiguous. This additional information is the key to make sure that there always is a way to differentiate, even without color.

    • http://advanceyourslides.com Nick Smith

      Excellent advice, all, Jakob. I rarely use the HSV color model. It’s something I need to become more familiar with.

  • Marshall Reid

    I never even thought about those who might be colorblind not being able to see everything in my PowerPoints. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I don’t know if there is anybody in the church that is colorblind, but I’ll definitely consider this now!

    • http://advanceyourslides.com Nick Smith

      Even if there isn’t anyone in the audience with that condition, it’s still a good idea to be prepared. I hope now that just mentioning it here will help stick the idea in your mind, Marshall. :^)

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