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How can you be a designer if you’re colorblind? It’s actually pretty simple.

When I tell people I’m colorblind, they’re usually surprised. And they always have questions.

“What colors can you see, or do you only see black and white?”
“What does this look like to you?”
“Is my red the same as your red?”

People’s curiosity doesn’t bother me, and the conversations that come next can be pretty cool. Color is a really integral part of our lives, even if most of us don’t think or talk about it that often.

To answer those questions: I have protanomaly colorblindness, which means I have trouble distinguishing reds and greens. I also struggle with blues and purples, so just about every purple looks blue. I think I can see every color, but it’s hard to tell them apart when they’re next to each other. They all look muted, kind of like if you desaturate a photo. I know what color things “should” be from life experiences. Being colorblind doesn’t really impact me, except for when my wife has to help me shop for clothes so everything matches.

Color is a really integral part of our lives, even if most of us don’t think or talk about it that often.

But of all the questions I’m asked, one sticks out: “How can you be a designer if you’re colorblind?”

Yep, I’m a colorblind designer, which might seem like a contradiction. Color, or the lack thereof, is one of the most essential elements in design. If you can’t see color “correctly,” how can you apply it in a way that makes sense?

Before I was a design major in college, I was a math major set on being a teacher. Math was what I liked and excelled in most. Becoming a teacher made the most sense.

The plan I had for myself shifted a little bit when I participated in a competition to design a poster for a class event. It was the kind where the teacher picks whatever they think is best and puts it up all over school. When I started working on mine, I realized that I really liked taking different texts and shapes and puzzling them together. I didn’t win the contest, but it was the first time I entertained the idea that I could do something like design as a job.

Eventually, I took an elective design course during one of my math major years at community college. It took some time, but I built up a portfolio and applied for the design program at SUNY Fredonia. There, I figured out that being an analytical thinker didn’t mean that I lacked creativity. The same attention to detail and tendency to double check my work that made me good at math helped make me a good designer. I also developed my personal style: clean and modern, accented with more organic, creative elements.

And, most importantly, I learned how to design despite being colorblind.

Back to that question. I use a really simple, quick process: If I’m working with a color I can’t identify, I’ll pull its hex code and put it into an online color namer. Once I know the color, I use the principles of color theory to apply the color where I think it will fit best.

That’s really it. My process doesn’t affect the work I can do. But I was worried employers might think my colorblindness would.

It took a few months for me to feel secure enough to tell my Parkway coworkers that I was colorblind. Same with my in-house job before that. To be clear, no one has ever made me feel like I couldn’t be a designer because I don’t see color the way they do. But hearing the question—How can you be a designer if you’re colorblind?—made me think that it would be disadvantageous to my career.

And yet, it hasn’t. When my coworkers find out, they tell me they never would have guessed I’m colorblind. What a validator that has been, not only that I made the right choice in pursuing design, but also that I can create in spite of a perceived setback.

Parkway Digital Senior Designer Tyler Schwab
Tyler Schwab / Senior Designer
Tyler brings almost a decade of design experience across agency, corporate in-house and freelance environments to our clients. His attention to detail, desire to design for a purpose and an ability to find inspiration everywhere sets Tyler apart from other creatives. From logos and typography to motion and web design, Tyler touches almost all of Parkway’s design projects.