Different, that's how.
July 25, 2008 5:11 AM   Subscribe

How do things look to colorblind people? Colour Lovers (Prev: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 - all more useful to those who aren't colorblind) offers some popular websites and iconic art, As Seen By The Color Blind. Luckily humans are smart and have created technology like the Color Blind Web Page Filter. Prev. Wiki.
posted by allkindsoftime (35 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
This is a great post. I'm not colorblind, but color theory has always been completely perplexing to me due to, I think, so many competing half-explanations.

(The filter page didn't work for me, even disabling the images. But it might be a proxy problem.)
posted by DU at 5:36 AM on July 25, 2008

Being colorblind, this was totally cool for me. I now know what type of colorblind I am by looking at the samples and seeing which ones looked the same. :)
posted by fusinski at 5:47 AM on July 25, 2008

Seems that you can extend firefox 3.0 to do colorblind page views right in your browser. (I haven't tried it as I'm stuck with FF2 on this machine)
posted by jepler at 5:56 AM on July 25, 2008

Wasn't this posted to the brown already?
posted by blue_beetle at 6:06 AM on July 25, 2008 [5 favorites]

Thanks for posting this. My father is red/green colorblind, and I've always wondered what the world looks like to him. It was very weird when when I realized that he saw the world completely differently than I do.

It's not just an aesthetic thing, either. When I was going on trips to look at colleges, we went to Boston, where some of the stoplights are oriented horiztonally rather than vertically. I saw that and thought it was kind of weird, but didn't think much of it. Of course, my father initially freaked out because he had no idea if the light was red or green. A quick explanation of which end was which did the trick, but if you're used to driving in a small town in North Carolina, Boston traffic is not the time to have to figure out if a light is green or red.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:12 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is cool. I work in the theater with a few colorblind people, and I'm constantly catching myself saying "these hit the red/blue/green/yellow/whatever marks."

I usually say it anyway, but just to screw with them a little.
posted by nevercalm at 6:15 AM on July 25, 2008

I'm colorblind - so the topic's always kind of fascinated me (hence the post). I can't tell a lot of browns and greens apart, or blues and purples, as well as a few related shades to all 4 of those. As far as I know, AskMe could be colored dark Hershey and MeFi could be bright Barney and I probably wouldn't know it. (I wanted to try to link to the filtered version of MeFi but I couldn't get it to work as a unique link for the FPP.)

I remember as a kid my dad used to ask me to go set up the sprinkler on the brown patches of the lawn. I'd head out there resolutely, make my best guess at which part he meant, and sometimes I'd be right.

In high school when we had to do those colored diagrams of internal organs or whatnot for biology homework, I often got lied to about what color certain pencils were and would get dinged on my grades for screwing that up.

More than a few times, I've been sitting at stop lights on a cloudy day, waiting for it to turn. I'd find myself looking at the light, confused because it had switched from red - but there's a hole in the light where the green one should be. Green traffic lights have always looked almost white to me, and when there's a cloud in the sky behind it, I lose it completely in my field of vision.

And, best of all - when I graduated from college and started my first real job, I remember having to take an extra tie to work every day in case I made a bad guess that morning. Of course, working in fashion didn't help. Or maybe it did, I'm not really sure. Anyway you learn little tricks like matching patterns and tags and whatnot to deal with that one.

That's just a small sampling of the random things that I've come across as a result of it. Its kind of hard to explain how you're different to someone who can see the full spectrum. I suppose its not unlike a person who can see, trying to explain what the color red looks like to a blind person. Not that extreme, but a unique challenge all the same. Hence my appreciation for unique attempts to explain the phenomenon on sites like these.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:18 AM on July 25, 2008 [4 favorites]

I bet bees look at humans all the time and just shake their heads. "He's wearing a UVA tie with a UVB shirt again. W.T.F. HUMANS."
posted by DU at 6:24 AM on July 25, 2008 [7 favorites]

I call bullshit on that http://www.colourlovers.com website.
thats not how they see the world!

If a colourblind person was to recreate the google website, choosing the colours themselves. would it look like the normal google website, to the non-colourblind?

I dont' have anything to back this up btu i have a strange suspicion they would manage to get it right.
posted by mary8nne at 6:25 AM on July 25, 2008

This is very cool. My son - and my older brother, although I didn't really know that until after my son was born - are slightly colorblind (orange/purple/brown area, as near as I can tell) and I've always wondered how the world looked to them. When my son was first diagnosed in kindergarten I was horrified and put him through all kinds of weird tests until a friend said "Look. This is just because he had the misfortune to be born into a family of artists. In any other family no one would even notice or care. This is no big deal." and we all relaxed. Now I forget for months at a time.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:28 AM on July 25, 2008

The thing about colorblindness is that you have to be told you have it, especially when it's fairly mild. I can "see" all the colors, they just don't appear the same to me as they do to you, or so I'm told. I had no idea this wasn't how others see the world until I was in grade school.

I find it interesting that the school bothered testing for colorblindness since they didn't do anything with the information other than tell your parents. Later in life, when I was a volunteer firefighter, the doctors would test for it and mark on my file "Should not be placed in situations where distinguishing colors would be critical". If you've ever been inside a building fire you know that visibility is effectively zero and that all you need to be able to do is distinguish the glowing part (the fire) from the non-glowing parts (everything else). As long as you point the hose at the glowing part, it doesn't much matter whether it's glowing white, yellow, orange or red.
posted by tommasz at 6:33 AM on July 25, 2008

This is a wonderful post insofar as I can now, finally, show my artist girlfriend what I'm actually seeing as a colourblind person (though I prefer the term monochromatically gifted *of course I don't really*).

Favourite colourblind moments..

1. Putting all the red, green and brown plasticine into one multi-hued ball then dunking it in its kindergarten container with the most self-satisfied smug grin my 4 year old face could muster - "finished Mrs Lister!" - shortly after this I was escorted out of the classroom and gently plimsolled across the buttocks for willful behaviour. This was repeated for a number of weeks before the school nurse did the Ishihara Plates with us.

2. Being excused from my 2nd year pathology exam at medical school due to my inherent inherited inability to differientiate between blue and pink in Haematoxylin and Eosin stained slides of diseased organs.

3. Repeatedly telling my younger brother that he was orange and our parents were lying to him that he was white.

It may not be a mystery after all as to why I've become a psychiatrist.
posted by you're only jung once at 6:36 AM on July 25, 2008

I know a guy who's colorblind, though I don't know to what degree, and loves--and I do mean loves--Rock Band. I suppose it's easy to figure out since the buttons are in the same order on the screen as on the instrument (although it doesn't help that he's also left-handed), but it must be a little challenging for him after a few glasses of scotch.

Colorblindness is one of those things that I've often wondered about; thanks for the post.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:40 AM on July 25, 2008

As long as you point the hose at the glowing part, it doesn't much matter whether it's glowing white, yellow, orange or red.

Except this is exactly wrong. Hazardous materials are marked by a code that is partly color-based.
posted by DU at 6:46 AM on July 25, 2008

(it looks like maybe the colored parts of the haz signs are in a consistent location, so maybe it's OK. OTOH, I can imagine a situation where the sign is seen reversed on a glass window and the values are all 0, 1, 2, 5 or 8 so you can't tell that you are reading it backward and OMGTHINKOFTHECHILDREN)
posted by DU at 6:48 AM on July 25, 2008

This is truly a fantastic post, thanks allkindsoftime.

Now, in a somehow related note, this is how the world sounds to the tonedeaf.

(don't let my joke mislead you, allkindsoftime, I really liked your post)
posted by micayetoca at 6:52 AM on July 25, 2008

Consider also tetrachromats. While people with normal color vision have three kinds of cones to perceive three base colors, tetrachromats have four and see four (IIRC, red, blue, dark green, light green). From their perspective, we trichromats are colorblind, mismatching colors all the time, etc.

Tetrachromacy is thought to be extremely rare, and found only in women.
posted by adamrice at 7:02 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am red/green colorblind and, while it's not debilitating, it is a hassle.

I do graphic design on the side, and my wife always has to check my work because hues and tints are really difficult. Blues/purples/blacks/greys and red/greens/browns are hard for me to distinguish. It's not that I don't see a color, it's just not the "correct" color.

Matching clothes is an issue, sometimes. I can't use red golf tees because they're damn near impossible to see in the grass. Just annoying little things; beats not being able to see at all by a mile, though.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:04 AM on July 25, 2008

Every body at a high enough temperature will give off light.

With a side benifit of not worrying about being color blind ever again.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:08 AM on July 25, 2008

Tetrachromacy is thought to be extremely rare,

Except among birds, reptiles and others. Mammals two channels, then regained one, to put it simplistically.
posted by DU at 7:15 AM on July 25, 2008

Just don't depend on color to distinguish between anything you design. For example, when you turn on Track Changes in Microsoft Word, the default of red text for changes is not good design.
It would be better to be red and emphasized in some way.

One easy test is to print the information in black and white, and if you can't see the information then your product will irritate someone, somewhere.

posted by mdoar at 7:37 AM on July 25, 2008

Hmm. Looks like I'm not only color blind but also not very good at text formatting this morning.
posted by mdoar at 7:38 AM on July 25, 2008

I have never understood how anyone knows what anyone else is seeing. I see "blue" on the background of metafilter. And other people see something they also call blue. But what if the thing I call blue is something you call red, but since we're both calling it blue, we don't realize that we're seeing something different? Not to mention shades of things -- I've had arguments over whether something is blue or purple, or pink or purple, before.

Just like.... how do they know if dogs/bugs/reptiles are colorblind. We can't see through their eyes. How do they know?? HOW?? How do we know we're not just existing in the mind of a bug on a flower on another planet in a different universe! How do we know anything?! *sob*
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:00 AM on July 25, 2008

This is really interesting. My husband is mildly color blind and I have never been quite sure what he means when he says he can't see certain colors. If a light is blinking on his wireless mouse, for example, he can't tell if it is green or red. But sometimes in certain contexts he can tell if something is green or red because of the colors around it. This link was interesting because he couldn't really see the 29 in the "normal" circle, but knew there was something there, possibly heart-shaped. Once I moused over to the other options he could tell quite clearly it was a 29.
posted by sutel at 8:22 AM on July 25, 2008

My experiences mirror allkindsoftime. I'm a little curious how they purport to show what some of the lighter "color blindness" cases look to a "normal" viewer. I say this because I've often taken to using the term "shade blind" or "shade averse", because I can *see* all of these colors you all are talking about. My brain just can't identify some of them.

Example, I know MeFi is "the blue" having read that enough times, but if you were to take this shade and put it on a wall and ask me what color it is, I'd be 50/50 going blue purple. All I know about what folks call purple, and brown, etcetera, anything involving red/green, is what I've guessed using historical evidence.

So, whaddayadoabout it? You don't get licensed for flying solo at night. You tend towards a wardrobe of complimentary neutrals or greyscale so you never make "that mistake". You look at landscapes and play a game with yourself where you try to guess what the colors are, and then your SO smiles and tells you you're bonkers. Single LED power status indicators (battery chargers, etc) are a struggle. Usually one color is brighter than the other, and you can figure out by the brightness, otherwise.. well you're SOL, friend.

It's not a BLINDNESS, though. I SEE all these shades and colors and variances. I just can't identify the colors.
posted by cavalier at 8:45 AM on July 25, 2008

Awesome. Apparently I'm tritanopic. I've always had some trouble distinguishing certain shades of blue and green, and sometimes even brown and purple. It's nice to know exactly what's wrong with me though (on top of all kinds of other fun vision problems, like retinitis pigmentosa). At least it isn't all that severe; it's just subtle differences I have problems with. The only time I can remember it being a problem was some time last year when I was playing Uno with a few friends. I don't know if it was that particular deck of cards or the lighting or whatever, but I really had to think hard and double check before I threw a card down that I thought was blue or green.
posted by Venadium at 9:21 AM on July 25, 2008

I can rarely see the numbers in the circle, and I have trouble with the calendar telling us which week recycling is picked up (alternating weeks in dark red and dark green? thanks, Independent Disposal Service!). Most people consider me somewhat colorblind, and I often consult with my wife on whether things match. She's told me I was wearing green when I thought it was brown, etc. At the same time, I can certainly tell bright red from bright green from bright blue, and I'm fine with red/green LEDs 99.9% of the time.

Yet, I could tell the left and right apart in each case. I will admit that some seemed a bit subtle to me, but I wonder if they actually look EXACTLY the same to someone more severely colorblind, or what?
posted by JMOZ at 11:23 AM on July 25, 2008

Except this is exactly wrong. Hazardous materials are marked by a code that is partly color-based.

They're also placarded with DOT/UN numbers and not just color-coded. You need a guidebook, of course, but the common numbers for things like gasoline are easy to memorize. Sometimes, there will be both a DOT and an NFPA placard. It can get confusing.

Luckily, as you later noted, the NFPA positions are consistent and the colors are all primaries, so even I can tell them apart.
posted by tommasz at 1:43 PM on July 25, 2008

I have a rare form of color blindness which is almost, but not quite, complete. It's rarely a problem, except for video games, which often have a limited color palette that makes them difficult to play.

I consider myself to have a superpower that makes me immune to certain forms of bad taste.
posted by kyrademon at 2:58 PM on July 25, 2008

The thing about colorblindness is that you have to be told you have it, especially when it's fairly mild. // Repeatedly telling my younger brother that he was orange and our parents were lying to him that he was white.

Awesome--now I can tell my colorblind uncle story again.

One day when my uncle Dick was about four, his mother decided it was time to tell him he was going to have a little sibling. "Which kind to you want?" she asked, meaning a brother or a sister. He pointed down the street to a black kid on a tricycle and said, "I want a green one like that."

His wife, my aunt, has no sense of smell. It took a while to figure that out, too: her older sister didn't believe it until they were teenagers, when my aunt couldn't tell the difference between a slice of apple and a slice of onion. They compensate for each other--there's a lot of describing in that household.
posted by hippugeek at 5:25 PM on July 25, 2008

A lot of the presentations I see in the biological sciences rely heavily on microscopy images, which are almost always shown in red and green. Looks like I'm not the first to wonder how they look for colourblind viewers, as I found this how to make presentations friendly for colourblind viewers site in the email sig of one of my lecturers.
posted by penguinliz at 12:08 PM on July 26, 2008

PenguinLiz: You're not kidding. Among the worst classes I've ever taken (it was lousy for other reasons than this) was a course in computational proteomics: "And here, class, we can see a very obvious pattern along the grid, where the red spots indicate drone drone drone." Uh, no, we actually can't. Really.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 4:31 PM on July 26, 2008

AllKindsofTime, I find it unlikely that you cannot detect that the default CSS for MetaFilter is blue. Nearly everyone can see blue, except for some tritanopes. You are very unlikely to be a tritan.
posted by joeclark at 9:34 PM on July 26, 2008

joeclark: I see the default color for Metafilter just fine, and by default I'd probably call it blue. But if you told me it was purple, I'd buy that without much argument. I am (I believe) protanomalous ... so when AKoT said he Metafilter could be "bright Barney", I interpreted it as "Metafilter could be bright purple, and I'd never know the difference". (Barney the Dinosaur is purple, right? I seem to recall being told that, but damned if I know by looking.)
posted by spaceman_spiff at 1:51 AM on July 27, 2008

I find it unlikely that you cannot detect that the default CSS for MetaFilter is blue.

I do consider it to be blue. The problem is, if you put something that you'd clearly distinguish as purple right next to it, I'd have trouble telling you which one was which. They look pretty much the same to me.

I've never been clinically diagnosed, I'm just speaking from 30+ years of situations where I wasn't able to tell a difference in colors that others expected I should be able to.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:48 AM on July 27, 2008

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