UX Fail: Colorblindness

According to wikipedia as much as 10% of males (~15 million people in the US) have red-green color blindness.  Why is that important? Well, for me personally, it’s important because I’m in that 10%. For a designer, it’s important because that’s probably more than the number of people who use, say, Safari and Chrome to browser your site. Do you care if your site works in Safari and Chrome? Do you care if it’s useable to people with color blindness?

I was reminded of this when I checked out Google Wave recently. When I signed in, I had 1 contact: the person that invited me. Their presence was shown by either a red or a green dot. Not an icon, but a dot. Not a large dot, a small dot.

So here’s the problem: I have no clue, litterally none, whether that person is there or not, because I can’t tell if that’s red or if that’s green.

Now, I’ve had this conversation so many times I can tell you what you’re thinking. You want to ask me, “What color is it?”. I can’t tell you. They are either green or red, but I don’t know. In fact, I can’t even tell if they are the same or different colors. Both of the dots look green, unless I think they are red, then they look red. I know, it doesn’t make sense. I literally can’t tell what color they are. I’m actually red-green-brown color blind, so they could be brown and I’d have no idea. All I know is: Google, you’re doing it wrong.

Facebook on the other hand, did it mostly ok. The blue moon is great for away. A green dot for available? That’s just lazy (and 2 different metaphors).


Here’s an example of a red/green combo I can differentiate and one I can’t.

  • Joel Davis

    Actually, there’s a green dot if the person is there, and no dot at all if they aren’t. There’s no red dot, AFAIK.

    Then again, I’ve only been using it for a few days..

  • Baarvader

    There’s a website dedicated to design patterns for the colorblind, for those interested: http://wearecolorblind.com/

  • Cucumber’s output heavily relies on colur, especially red and green. Does that mean you won’t know if there are bugs in the programs you write? Kidding aside – do we need to change anything? Are you using $CUCUMBER_COLORS?

    • BJ Clark

      Aslak, Just saw your comment.

      *I* personally don’t have trouble with the colors that cucumber (and rspec) output, I think because they are very different values of red/green and that seems to be enough for me to differentiate between. I’ve updated my post with an example of red green I can see and red green I can’t really see.