Thursday, July 31, 2014

Should designers stop using color coding in their designs?

If your like me, you have dabbled in solving your own home electrical and plumbing problems. When I was younger, it wasn't uncommon to see me trying to take on complex wiring issues having to do with car stereo's. For me, this isn't a big deal at all. Likewise, I've been known to excel at putting together those old 1990's tents that had the color code poles. Not a problem at all... for me that is. Maybe for you too.

But, there is a large group of people who really struggle with colors. Well, when I say large, I mean about 8% of males, and .05% of females in 2012 according to one source.

So should color coding be outlawed? Should we abolish this practice of using color to code things in interfaces, on products, or during service experiences?


The reason for this is that although a user experience practitioners job is to seek out the most usable or accessible interface, we are also trying to meet the expectations of our users (or at least the expectations of the bulk of the users). In this case, there are simply many, MANY more people who are not color blind. I'm sorry if this offends you.

We have many different senses that designers can target as inputs or outputs for their designs...
  • Hearing
  • Touch
  • Smell
  • Sight
In each of the above mentioned senses, there are likely going to be people who struggle. Color  just happens to be part of the most frequently used input/output that designers target.

Maybe it's time to combine two senses to help eliminate accessibility issues. Maybe the wires would have color coding, but also maybe we as designers can be understanding of those who struggle with color and incorporate some other means (i.e. label, or wire material texture, etc...).

I'm not sure that flavored wires, or smelly wires are a good idea, but there are creative ways that we can better support those 8.05% of users who don't appreciate our color coding efforts.

I'm interested in hearing your ideas. Let's here them, what do you have?


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