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Kindle and colorblind users: Two reasons for using texture

Accessibility was one of the most popular design topics. Today we are talking about texture.


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Gus Oenning

3 years ago | 3 min read

Last year, most of the design articles I read here on Medium featured accessibility as its main subject. The pandemic made every privileged person taste a little bit of what vulnerability feels like. On that momentum, I’ve learned that…

8% of men suffer from some kind of colorblindness. Mercenary investors would see the value of that untapped market and invest in more accessible products. We as designers should accommodate colorblind users regardless of profitability, as universal design proposes.

So I started testing my designs for color-blind users and that made me switch from Sketch App to Figma due to the amount of accessibility plugins available (don’t miss Color Blind; Focus Orderer and Hero Patterns).

Kindle

I’ve recently acquired a Kindle Oasis and started the process of organizing my virtual bookshelf. The monochromatic screen suddenly turned me into a colorblind user. Reading on that device reinforced the importance of visual contrast, especially when designing infographics. I realized that there are many occasions when a colorful brochure ends up being consumed in a black & white venue:

  • When people who can’t see colors
  • When the screen is monochromatic (e-books)
  • When printed at home on black ink

Left: Mapping Experiences by J. Kalbach, print version. Right: The Kindle version.

Texture on Informational Design

Differentiating those blue boxes was not easy on Kindle. So I decided to add some texture to the boxes to check if that would increase the legibility of the graphic, originally created by Tyler Tate.

After several experiments, I realized that it’s better to use textures with different graphic properties. For example, the use of lines, circles and random shapes instead of large, medium and small circles on the same chart, makes the information immediately more legible; it helps to set each item apart from others.

Increasing the contrast between the blue tones was helpful as well. Below you can see the color versions on the left side and the monochromatic simulation on the right side.

Sans Texture

Added Texture

I informally asked two friends to tell me which monochromatic version they preferred and why. Both of them agreed that the version with texture was much easier to read.

They told me that the association between similar items (circle to circle; square to square; wave to wave) happened immediately. Software like Microsoft Excel has already pioneered the use of texture as an alternative to color, so many computer users are already familiar with the use of patterns and textures as an informational key.

Future Recommendations

Ten years ago designers started paying attention to “responsive design” which refers to designing websites not only for desktops, but also for tablets and mobile phones.

Some people in the industry were skeptical about adopting this practice because it nearly doubled the amount of work by designers and engineers and thus increased the cost. Today, however, responsive design is standard practice for any digital practitioner and there is no discussion or skepticism about it. It’s the norm.

Similarly, book publishers should go the extra mile and rethink how they design and present information on their publications. Using texture on charts and graphics should become the new norm.

At some point e-book readers like the Kindle will get more evolved and color versions will become available on the market. But when that happens we will still have 8% of men with color blindness around the world and that is not likely to change anytime soon.

Kindle Oasis by Amazon: Monochromatic screens (and colorblind users) could benefit from the usage of texture when color isn’t an option.

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