Designing for colour blind people

Ever thought of how a colour blind person perceives the world? I wonder how many graphic designers (especially for functional things like webpages and book illustrations) take colour blindness into account in their design process.

I didn’t know anything about colour blindness until I did some researching last week. Apparently 1 in 12 people has some form of colour blindness and men are more likely to be colour blind than women. A colour blind friend of mine, who is very interested in art history and museums, sometimes speaks about how colour blindness changes the way he looks at art. The thought that he sees the art differently than most people, including the original creator, feels very frustrating.

Especially flat design (which is very in style at the moment) can be problematic for people with color blindness. Flat design consists of stylized vector images without any line-art. If you are colour blind, flat design can be a problem since there’s no border between two colours. Shapes that are clearly separate for people with perfect colour vision might be merged in the eyes of a person with colour blindness.
As a small test, I’ve taken one of my one flat designs and put it in the colour blindness simulator over at The left image is the ‘normal’ image, the right image is the image as seen by someone with ‘deuteranopia’ (red-green colour blindness):

colorblindness-birds-normal colorblindness-birds-deuteranopia

If you want to test yourself for colour blindness, you can do an Ishihara color blindness test at as well.

Now I’m wondering: how can we make graphic design better, also taking into account that 1 in 12 (or: 11 in 12, if the designer is colour blind!) people might not perceive the things we make the same way as we do?

Biographical comics

For those that only know comics as a source of entertainment for children, be sure to look into serious graphic novels like Maus and Persepolis. Comics are an excellent medium to tell a story in a personal manner. Telling a story in panels and quirky illustration can also serve as an easy approach to heavy or difficult subjects.

Maus is a biographical graphic novel by Art Spiegelman. It tells the story of the father of the artist, a Polish Jew, who lived in Poland during the Second World War. It deals with the war itself but also the long-term personal consequences for those that were in it. I believe it is a required read for first-year history students at the University of Amsterdam.

Art Spiegelman, Maus

One of my personal favorites is the book Achter de Kawat (Behind the Fence) by Charles Burki. Burki was interned on Java in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during the Second World War. During his stay he kept a diary with illustrations and humorous notes, which he published when he returned to the Netherlands after the war. The illustrations depict the difficulties of daily life in the war camp, and the book is interesting from both historical and artistic perspective.

Charles Burki, Achter de Kawat

BBAX: Aral Balkan on the future of the internet

Yesterday evening designer and social entrepreneur Aral Balkan gave a great keynote on what we can and must to do to make the internet a better place.
Balkan gave the talk in the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam, at the award ceremony of the Big Brother Awards, an award for the most appalling privacy infringement in The Netherlands. The event was organized by Bits of Freedom, a Dutch digital rights organization that cares a lot about privacy and communications freedom.

Unfortunately, there is no clip of the keynote yet, only a recording of the livestream of the whole event. Balkans talk starts at 51:15.

Thoughts on trade secrets and sharing

sharing trade secrets

Some time ago I read a joke on the website of a graphic designer:

Success is an important factor for entrepreneurs. We of [company] have discovered the two rules for success:
1. Never reveal all of your trade secrets.

The joke left me wondering about the truth of this statement.

It seems to me that this joke represents an old-fashioned view on what it takes to be successful. It seems to imply that if you have a set of trade secrets, you are able to work better than others, which leads to a more successful business. But here’s the drawback: if the trade secret gets out in public, you no longer have an advantage over the competition. The notion of secrecy is completely at odds with my own thoughts about ‘success’. In my opinion, being successful as an entrepreneur means having the right skills and experience. Continue reading Thoughts on trade secrets and sharing



I just finished The Dark Fields. It’s a science fiction novel about a designer drug, MDT, that makes your brain work in a super-efficient way. The drug allows you to fully use the intelligence you already had with almost unlimited concentration. The book tells about the effects of this drug on the life of Eddie Spinola, an ex-drug-addict who is currently wrestling with a writersblock while trying to earn a living as an underpaid copywriter. Needless to say, MDT turns Eddie’s life around completely. You might also know this book under the title of the corresponding movie, Limitless. From this and other books, it seems to me that mankind as a species is obsessed with boundaries. Whether it’s our fascination with space, the final frontier, the fine line between Right and Wrong or the limits of human knowledge and skill, the content of our literature exposes our preoccupation with borders — and the act of crossing them.

Limitless was a nice read: I love reading about people doing things they never thought they could do. I don’t think we need a fancy designer drug to do that, mind you. I think we all might already have a superpower of our own.
Some examples: I know teachers that can inspire nihilistic, game-addicted 20-somethings into diving head-first into an obscure research field and subsequently delivering ground-breaking research papers. I know programmers that can spot the one-character-typo in 500 lines of spaghetti code. XKCD-creator Randall Munroe can explain technical things in such a way that anyone and their grandmother can understand then. There are writers and artists that can change your perspective on Life, The Universe and Everything with a painting, a poem, a paragraph. And my mom makes better coffee than the best barrista in town, using only an ten-year-old drip-machine.
Three months ago I broke my own mold. I took a course in Category Theory, for which I didn’t have the listed prerequisites: the mathematical maturity of someone who’s finished undergraduate studies in mathematics. I’m a computer science major, and it was the hardest course I ever took at university.
I worked between 18 and 30 hours each week on the homework problems. It was the hardest thing I ever did, but I passed the course. Don’t get me wrong: I haven’t magically turned into a Category Theory expert, but the course has helped me to understand the theory of all the other courses in computer science I have taken since — and it completely changed my view of my own mental boundaries.

Now I know there is a superpower that I think all humans have: given 6 months of concentration and dedication, we can learn anything.