A few years back I discovered that I was colourblind. I was well into my design career at that point, and the revelation came to me as a massive shock. How could I have gone all this time without knowing!?! I had taken art classes all through primary school, attended two different post secondary institutions to study art & design, held jobs at multiple graphic design studios and advertising agencies, and it had NEVER come up!?! How could this have happened? I used to mock people who had “bad” colour sense and now the karma police had come calling.
My loving Mother dropped the bomb on me during a family vacation (“we had you tested when you were a toddler and you came up as colourblind”) and when I got home I did some digging online. I found a few examples of the Ishihara Test and sure enough, failed miserably. Those frustrating circles filled with various sized dots didn’t look like anything other than that. Guess I’ll never be a pilot now, let alone an astronaut… gee, thanks Mom.
In hindsight, maybe that is why I have always been drawn to bold, high contrast graphic work. Maybe it is one of the reasons my preferences skewed early on towards graphic design instead of fine art. I’ll never know, but I do know that being colourblind has never held me back. I learned early on never to trust my eyes anyway. I was taught to look at the numeric breakdown of CMYK process colours, spec pantone numbers and never to believe the colours represented on potentially poorly calibrated computer monitors. Perhaps that is why I got really good at two and three colour solutions. As every good designer knows, in order to create a successful piece of work, it MUST work in black & white before you even consider the application of colour. I always take pride in the fact that my designs would really pop in black and white (it will be great on a fax!).
Of course Sue will never let me live it down, and loves to rub my nose in the fact that “I can’t possibly spec anything to do with colours, because I’m colourblind”. Nevermind the fact that I had created award-winning designs all while never even knowing that I had trouble distinguishing between the darkest shades of red and green.
Besides, I figure if Graphic Design master Herb Lubalin could build such an illustrious career all while being colourblind, there might be hope for me yet.