Monotype Webinar Q&A

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Monotype Webinar Slide

Yesterday during my Monotype webinar on colour accessibility, a few questions came up that I didn’t get time to answer in the Q&A. One of them was from Kirsty:

As designers, should we think in grayscale first when designing? And color second? ... as a sort of flavoring to ice cream?

Kirsty, if you’re out there—apologies if I wasn’t clear in my talk—I definitely don’t think this way!

Designing a layout in greyscale can help designers achieve good contrast without being caught up in which colours should go where—kind of like designing a hi-fi wireframe.

We should definitely not think in greyscale—that’s a surefire recipe for ending up with a boring palette—something we clearly want to avoid.

Brainstorming palettes should come early in your design process. Once you feel you have some solid options, you can then move into designing your page and consider doing it in greyscale to focus on achieving good contrast and design hierarchy without the distraction of colour. When you feel comfortable with that design, you can then go wild with introducing colour—take your palette ideas and work them into your greyscale designs until they feel right. I often find that this process is quicker than designing in colour first because I don’t spend ages pulling colours out of the air without much rhyme or reason. It’s so easy to spend hours getting caught up in Photoshop/Sketch/etc. trying every colour combination imaginable without much progress on the actual layout of a page!

For more information on this technique, check out my Skillshare classes on Colour Workflow—I demonstrate this from start to finish and hopefully it’ll make more sense there! The first is Color on the Web I–Designing Cohesive Palettes, and the second part is Color on the Web II–Design for Clarity and Compliance.

Fidok asked,

Is using red a bad choice for accessibility?

No, not at all—it’s all about how you use it. A red link in a paragraph of black text can create issues as it can blend together for a person with colour blindness, but it can be easily solved by adding an underline on the inactive hover state. Using red and green in a line chart can be fine if the lines have different patterns or widths. Use your discretion and you’ll be fine!

My webinar should be posted soon for anyone who’d like to watch again (or for those who missed it). You can still sign up here to get a link when it’s available—just scroll right to the bottom of the page.

Thanks for tuning in!

Photo of Geri Coady

About Me

I’m Geri Coady — a designer and illustrator from St. John’s, Newfoundland — now living in Nottingham, UK. I've got an eye for detail, a passion for the web, and I'm ready to work with clients worldwide. Want to learn more?


Shuhei Oya
  • Shuhei Oya

Hi, Geri.
I appreciate your helpful advice. Thank you for sharing.

  • Ink

Hello Geri:
I watched your color webinar, and I wanted to share some things which will clarify some concepts in your presentation that I think will help you going forward. The topic of colorblindness, especially tritanopia, is something I've been researching for a few months now.

About genetics: Only red-green deficiencies and monochromacies/achromotopsias are sex-linked. Tritanopia (also called blue-yellow colorblindness) is NOT sex-linked, is passed on chromosome 7 (an autosome, that is, a non-sex chromosome). It is, at least in theory, equally heritable by both males AND females. It is quite rare: the largest estimate of the population that has (or could have) a form of tritanopia is 0.02%, which includes both males and females. Unlike the other forms of colorblindness, it is a dominant gene, but with incomplete dominance, meaning that one who inherits the gene may have a scale of color vision defects. (Red-green defects are recessive genes.) Tritanopia is rare enough that is difficult to study and poorly understood by many.

The bottom image at 21:33 is not a tritanopic simulation. It is likely a deuteranopic simulation. Look carefully at the rightmost shirt's trim—a tritanope can see certain reds fairly well (this is orange-red in the original) so it wouldn't look green to a tritanope. Also, the center shirt is a pinkish-gray but the pink disappears on the bottom image.

It would have been helpful to touch on the issue of color weaknesses (anomalous trichromacies) as well; however, I do understand your approach of designing for the most severe forms first (that is, dichromats)—if the group with the most severe deficiencies can differentiate your palette, the rest should take care of itself. Your "8% of males" figure, I believe, covers only red-green defects, and both mild and severe types. Protanomaly and deuteranomaly are the corresponding weaknesses to protanopia and deuteranopia. A less severe form of tritanopia is called incomplete tritanopia; this was formerly called tritanomaly but due to some genetic fine points (that I don't fully understand), the incomplete term is more accurate. To people with any of the less severe deficiencies, very light, very dark, and desaturated colors can become problematic; even some oversaturated colors can be tricky to distinguish.

Also, the term "color vision deficiency" (CVD) is being used increasingly over "colorblindness" and "color weakness". Newer literature and studies use this term because it puts the deficiencies on a spectrum (no pun intended) rather than using a binary context.

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Graham J. Johnson
  • Graham J. Johnson

It is the look, color and the design that is the most important for a designer. Representing the data is not a big thing that anyone can do but the way of representing is the most important. Being a designer, one must know how to deal with such stuffs. Yes, using a greyscale can be helpful to got the correct color contrast and to save some time. It was really helpful to read your post. These are certainly the things that a designer must know. Thanks for your enlightment.

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