Can Designers Really See Color? An Article About Understanding Color Vision

You’re a designer, right? You create websites and apps and you know your way around Photoshop. But when it comes to color, you might not be so confident.

How do you choose the right colors for your designs? What do those terms like “complementary” mean anyway? The truth is that while most people think they understand color theory, there are plenty of misconceptions out there and sometimes even professional designers can get tripped up by them. 

If you feel lost in the world of color or just want to brush up on some basics, this article is for you!

Color Doesn’t Exist, Understanding + Design – YouTube
1. Color perception varies among individuals due to factors such as color blindness and visual deficiencies.
2. Designers need to consider color accessibility to ensure their designs are inclusive for all users.
3. Utilizing color contrast effectively can enhance the readability and usability of designs.
4. Tools and simulators are available to help designers visualize how color-blind users might experience their designs.
5. Understanding color theory and psychology can contribute to creating impactful and visually appealing designs.

Most People’s Color Vision Is Pretty Normal

You may not realize it, but your perception of color is a bit different from everyone else’s. Most people have normal color vision and see the world in three dimensions: red, green, and blue. This is called trichromacy.

If you are one of the rarer exceptions either because you are color blind or because your eyesight isn’t quite as sharp as others’ you probably know that seeing in color can be a challenge. 

Fortunately for those with monochromatic vision (one form of color blindness), there are ways to make sure they get by just fine every day without having to deal with any major challenges in life!

Understanding the interplay between color and typography is essential for effective design. Explore the significance of considering context in typography in our article on The Benefits of Considering Context in Typography.

Color Blindness Can Mean Many Different Things

There are actually many different forms of color blindness, and each one can be more or less severe. The most common form is red-green color blindness. This happens when you see some shades of red and green as similar, or even the same (e.g., seeing a green apple as red). 

Blue-yellow color blindness is less common but still possible: it causes difficulty distinguishing between certain shades in the blue and yellow spectrum (e.g., light blue versus turquoise).

Total color blindness is extremely rare but does exist it’s referred to as achromatopsia because people with this condition are unable to perceive any colors at all!

Some Versions Of Color Blindness Are More Common Than Others

Red-green color blindness is the most common form of color blindness, affecting about 8 percent of men and 0.4 percent of women in the United States. The inability to distinguish red from green is a hereditary condition caused by an inherited gene that affects the way your eyes perceive colors. 

People with this type of color vision deficiency can tell the difference between yellow and orange hues but have difficulty distinguishing reds and greens from each other; they may also see brown or gray hues where others see white or gray.

Blue-yellow color blindness (also known as deuteranopia) affects approximately 1 in 10,000 people worldwide about twice as many men as women and results in difficulty seeing blue and yellow hues together on objects or surfaces; those affected often see grays instead when looking at these colors side by side with green or violet objects.

Total color blindness is rarer than either red-green or blue-yellow deficiencies: only about 1 person in 30,000 has total monochromacy (seeing only two colors), while total dichromacy (seeing three colors) occurs even less frequently at roughly 1/100,000 people worldwide.

If you’re interested in learning more about how your eyes perceive hue, check out this article on how we define different colors using wavelengths of light!

The distinction between good and bad design often hinges on various factors, including color choices. Delve into the elements that shape design quality in our post about An Understanding of What Makes a Good Design and Bad Design.

Many People Who Have A Difficult Time Seeing Color Can Still See Some Differences

People who are color blind can see some differences in color, but they may not be able to see all the subtle differences between shades of red and green. 

Some people with color vision problems have a mild form of the condition and can tell the difference between certain shades of red and green, such as those that are similar to each other on the spectrum. Others might not be able to tell them apart at all.

For example, I am red-green color blind; I have difficulty distinguishing between blues and purples (and sometimes blacks). Other people with this condition may find that it’s easier for them to distinguish between certain shades of blue than it is for me or vice versa.

Colorblind People Don’t See In Black And White

You might think that if you have color blindness, the world would look like a black and white movie to you. But this isn’t true. While people with color blindness do not see certain colors, they can still distinguish between light and dark and different shades of gray. 

And there are many shades of gray! For example, some shades of blue look brighter than others; some yellows appear more yellow-ish than others; and some greens may seem greener or bluer than others.

So no matter what kind of color blindness you have red-green or blue-yellow there are still many colors for you to enjoy in your daily life!

There’s No Treatment That Can Correct The Most Common Varieties Of Color Blindness

Although there’s no treatment that can correct the most common varieties of color blindness, there are ways to adapt. You can use special glasses, apps, and software to help you see colors more accurately or use other cues like shapes and textures to identify objects.

If you want to get around the limitations of your color vision deficiency, ask for help from friends or family members if you need it.

When hiring a freelance designer, it’s crucial to weigh multiple aspects, including their understanding of color vision and design skills. Learn more about the factors to consider in the hiring process from our guide on The Most Important Factors to Consider When Hiring a Freelance Designer.

Color Blind People Often Adjust To Their Conditions

People who are color blind may find ways to cope with their conditions. In school and at work, they may need to ask for help or accommodations. They can also get glasses that help them see colors more clearly but these only work if they have the right type of condition.

For example, someone with deuteranomaly can use special glasses to improve their ability to distinguish between reds and greens (the colors that tend to be most difficult for people with this disorder). However, these special glasses won’t help if the person has protanomaly (another type of color vision deficiency) instead.

Someone With Color Blindness May Not Know They Have It

Many people with color blindness don’t realize they have it, because they can see some colors just fine. They may think that other people see things differently than they do, but not know why.

The most common types of color blindness are inherited (genetic), and represent about 8% of all cases worldwide. In the United States, where about 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women have some form of color blindness [2], most people discover their condition during childhood or early adulthood through testing at school or by an eye doctor.

It’s possible to be partially color blind mostly to reds or greens, for example.

If you are color blind, it is possible that you can still see some colors. You just may not be able to tell them apart as easily as someone with normal vision. For example, if your red-green color blindness is mild, then perhaps red and green look more similar than they do to someone without color blindness.

However, most people who have color blindness don’t see in black and white they still perceive some shades of gray! 

If a person has trouble distinguishing between two colors (like green and blue), he or she might think of both as blue if they’re close enough together on the spectrum of light frequencies detected by their eyes’ photoreceptors.

  • Color blindness doesn’t always show up on tests all the time.
  • Color blindness is often not diagnosed properly. To understand why we need to look at the different kinds of tests that can be used to diagnose color blindness.

There are two main types of tests for diagnosing color vision deficiencies:

Thematically (By Theme)

By the Tetrachromatic “rule”  Thematic testing involves asking the patient to identify colors based on their similarities or differences from other colors, which usually involves a patterned background against which colored objects are shown in various combinations (a “floral” test), or synonyms/antonyms being shown together (“snowy” versus “clear”). 

These tests try to measure if there’s a deficiency in any one type of cone cell by comparing how well a person matches up with normal subjects’ responses in these situations.

The second type of test uses both chromatic and achromatic stimuli: We show people various colored lights along with gray patches at different brightness levels so they can see if they have trouble distinguishing between them correctly when they’re presented alternately over time.”

The most common types of color blindness are inherited, but there are some acquired forms too, caused by disease or injury.

If you have color blindness, you may have trouble seeing red, green, blue, and mixtures of these colors.

There are two main types of inherited color blindness:

Embarking on a freelance graphic design career can open up diverse opportunities, including exploring color theory and visual design. Discover the reasons why a freelance graphic design career might be right for you in our article about Why You Should Consider a Freelance Graphic Design Career.

Red-Green Color Blindness 

You see a full spectrum of colors but cannot tell the difference between red and green. This is the most common form of inherited color vision deficiency.

Blue-Yellow Color Blindness

You can see all shades of red and green but cannot distinguish between blue and yellow.

Common Newborn Screening Tests Don’t Check For Color Blindness

There are people who know that when a color-blind person sees something in red, he thinks it’s green or yellow. But did you know that there are two types of color blindness?

The most common type is inherited and affects about 8 percent of men worldwide. The other kind is acquired (meaning it develops later in life). It can be due to eye diseases or damage from chemicals or drugs even medicine for cancer treatment! And some people have both kinds.

Colorblindness may not seem like a big deal at first glance: after all, who really cares if you can’t tell the difference between “red” and “green”? But what if your job requires understanding colors? Or if you’re trying to communicate with someone with this condition? 

This condition might even affect relationships between family members, for example, a wife could have trouble communicating with her husband because she can’t tell if his shirt matches his pants!

There are many different types of color blindness, and the signs vary depending on what type you have and how severe it is.

The signs of color blindness can vary depending on what type you have, and how severe it is. There are different types of color blindness including:

Red-Green Color Blindness

This is the most common form of color vision deficiency, affecting 8% or 1 in 12 men and 0.5% or 1 in 200 women. 

People with this kind of color vision deficiency cannot see red or green colors very well for example, if an object looks orange to you because it has both red and green pigments in it, a person with protanopia would perceive it as blue or gray because they only have one type of cone cell that responds to long-wavelength light (red).


People who suffer from deuteranopia may experience difficulty seeing certain shades of reds and greens due to fewer cones in the retina (the layer at the back of our eyes). This condition affects around 6%–8% of people worldwide; approximately 2%–3% of females and 4%-6% of males are affected by this type.

Male Pattern Baldness And Colorblindness Have The Same Genetic Cause

For men, the gene for colorblindness is on the x chromosome. This means that if a man has an x chromosome from his mother and an x chromosome from his father, then he will be colorblind.

The odds of getting this mutation are 1/2 from mom and 1/2 from dad, making it an even 50% chance of getting one or both chromosomes with the gene for colorblindness!

That being said, women can also carry this gene and pass it on to their children but they do not have the same problem because they only have one X Chromosome so there is no chance of having two copies at once.

Web design requires a thoughtful approach that encompasses elements like color vision. Gain insights into graphic design for the web and its nuances in our article on Designing for the Web: My Approach to Graphic Design.

Color Perception Is Complicated, And We’re All Seeing Things Differently Than Each Other Anyway

When you look at an object, your eyes send signals to the brain. Those signals are processed by the retina which is a layer of cells and nerves that coats the inside back wall of your eye – and then sent along for further processing in other parts of the brain.

At this point, things get complicated. Each of us has different perceptions because our brains interpret color differently even if what we’re seeing isn’t changing from person to person. 

For example, people who have albinism sometimes experience a reduced sensitivity or altered perception when it comes to reds; some people suffer from color blindness where they see only shades of gray (or even black) rather than true colors. 

Other people may feel overwhelmed by large amounts of visual stimuli; still, others may be highly sensitive to certain wavelengths while being less sensitive or insensitive to others.

Even if all these factors were controlled for and everyone had perfect vision, there would still be differences based on mood changes and environmental effects like ambient lighting (e.g., sunlight).

Further Reading

Here are some additional resources that delve deeper into the topic of color vision and its relevance to design:

What It’s Like Being a Color-Blind Designer: Starting with User Experience A personal account of a color-blind designer’s experiences and insights into user experience design.

Designers Need to Understand Color Blindness An article discussing the importance of designers being aware of color blindness and its implications in design.

Perception of Color in the Interface: Why We See It Differently An exploration of how color is perceived in user interfaces and why individuals see colors differently.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Test For Colorblindness?

You can use the online Ishihara Color Test, which uses a series of images to determine if you are colorblind. Keep in mind that this is just a screening tool; it doesn’t provide an official diagnosis.

What Is Normal Vision?

Normal vision means not having any problems seeing colors or distinguishing between different shades and tints. This also includes being able to clearly see objects when they are close up as well as far away from your eye known as “depth perception.”

How Do I Know If I Am Colorblind?

If you think that you see fewer or distorted shades than others, then it’s possible that you have some form of color blindness but only an eye doctor can give an official diagnosis through testing and examination (like this one). 

Color blindness isn’t always obvious at first glance; some people may be unaware until they find out through friends who point out their inability to differentiate between certain hues such as red/green or blue/yellow combinations (which makes sense because everyone has different eyesight). 

But even then there’s no way of knowing whether someone else has been diagnosed with the same thing since both types aren’t visible on their own without special glasses (i.e., lenses), contact lenses, or medication so doesn’t assume someone else won’t notice either! 

There are several types which include protanopia (red), deuteranopia (green) etcetera; these terms describe what type of cone cells are missing so it’s easiest when shopping online by filtering results according to A vs C – where

When is Color Blindness Screened?

Color blindness screening should be performed at an early age and repeated annually. A child’s vision should be tested by a pediatric ophthalmologist before entering kindergarten and again in elementary school, middle school, and high school. If you know that you or your partner is color blind, talk to your doctor about having your children screened for color blindness as well.

What Causes Color Blindness?

The inability to see certain colors results from a deficiency in one of three types of light receptors (cones) in the retina of the eye: red, green, or blue-sensitive cones (also known as L-M-S cones). 

These deficiencies can lead to problems seeing certain shades of reds, greens, or blues (as well as yellows). For example, if someone has problems seeing reds it could look like they are wearing black shirts instead of white ones because they cannot differentiate between these two hues clearly enough! 

This may also explain why some people have difficulty distinguishing between browns and blacks too since they don’t have enough access to information coming from their “red” cone when viewing those colors together with others nearby them such as greens etcetera.”

Leave a Comment