Research Questions

1. What is color blindness?

2. What are some misconceptions associated with color blindness?

3. How does everyday life affect people with color blindness?

4. What can people take into consideration when designing for color
    blindness or highlighting objects to people with color blindness


Connie Hwang, SJSU Graphic Design Professor
Primary Advisor

Jeong Kim, SJSU Graphic Design Lecturer
Secondary Advisor

Dr. Cary Faria, SJSU Perception Psychology Professor
Tertiary Advisor


Color blindness affects 8% of all men and 0.005% of women around the world. Color blindness is a common but hidden disability that people without color blindness often do not take into consideration. As people with color blindness go through their daily lives, they come in contact with obstacles people with full color vision do not struggle with.

I was originally interested in this topic when working at my part time job designing the user interface for a game. If not for one of the game designers being red-green color blind I would have never started thinking about how color blindness affects a player’s perception of a game let alone how it affects one’s day to day life. As I continued to focus on creating a colorblind mode for the game, I encountered a few misconceptions that most people have about color blindness.

As a designer and with friends who are also colorblind, I struggled to understand what color blindness is and how it affects one’s perception of color.

My thesis focuses on creating an interactive that presents different scenarios in which people with color blindness have trouble identifying objects. Options are given to users to explain the use of conveying information other than with the use of color and why that is important when locating objects.

The outcome of my work will provide a platform of awareness for color blindness and provide inclusivity to this hidden disability- specifically now that there are many more scenarios where color is a tool for conveying information, compared with one or two decades ago.

What is Color Perception

Color blindness occurs when you are unable to see colors in a normal way. It is also known as color deficiency. Color blindness often happens when someone cannot distinguish between certain colors. This usually happens between greens and reds, and occasionally blues.

In the retina, there are two types of cells that detect light. They are called rods and cones. Rods detect only light and dark and are very sensitive to low light levels. Cone cells detect color and are concentrated near the center of your vision. There are three types of cones that see color: red, green and blue. The brain uses input from these cone cells to determine our color perception.

Color blindness can happen when one or more of the color cone cells are absent, not working, or detect a different color than normal. Severe color blindness occurs when all three cone cells are absent. Mild color blindness happens when all three cone cells are present but one cone cell does not work right. It detects a different color than normal.

There are different degrees of color blindness. Some people with mild color deficiencies can see colors normally in good light but have difficulty in dim light. Others cannot distinguish certain colors in any light. The most severe form of color blindness, in which everything is seen in shades of gray, is uncommon.


In addition to my research I conducted a survey asking friends, friends of friends and the internet a few questions regarding color blindness. These questions touched base on what colorblindness they have, what colors they have a hard time  seeing (so that I could compare it to my research), what objects they have trouble locating as well as their thoughts on what they wish educators and peers knew about color blindness to help with conveying information.

Survey Questions

  1. What is your name?
  2. How did you hear about this survey?
  3. When did you first realize you were colorblind? What was the context?
  4. What color blindness do you have?
  5. What colors do you have trouble differentiating?
  6. What do you wish educators/ peers knew about color blindness to help with conveying information/ locating an object?
  7. What objects did you have trouble identifying as a child/ in a classroom environment/ at work (colored pencils, text on a projector)?

What is Object Location?

Through object location one is able to recognize when a familiar or very specific object has been relocated. In the case that one loses a familiar item they would go through the process of searching for it through a list of qualities they remember about the object

For example if one loses a pencil, qualities of that pencil would include something along the lines of thin, long, yellow, pointed on one end.

This brings us to the question of how one can locate an object based on those qualities and how it can be described to someone that is color blind.


I created an interactive game that presents different scenarios in which people with colorblindness have trouble identifying objects. Scenes have been designed specifically to show how the use of color entirely is not for people with color blindness. Options are given to users to explain the use of conveying information other than with the use of color and why that is important in certain scenarios. Colors have been sampled through Coblis, a color blindness simulator and screens have been tested with the help of volunteers who are color blind. It has been noted that depending on how strong one’s color blindness is, colors may appear slightly different. For example if someone was green blind versus green weak.

“I can see colour, just knowing what colour it is is more contextual than actually knowing.”

—Lewis (collected from survey results)


From the introduction to this topic through my job to the end of this thesis I still find this topic interesting and there’s still a lot left for me to learn. I would hope that this topic is brought up in conversation amongst designers as well as children and educators. Even now with all the research I’ve done I still catch myself using color as the first indicator for an object. Moving forward to the future where screens are going to play a bigger part in one’s lives I hope that I can take what I learned from this project to design for visual accessibility.

Try the interactive game prototype:

  2020 timeiswhatyoumakeofit