NFL Raises Colorblind Awareness

Not intentionally, of course.

Bills/Jets game, red & green uniforms as seen with colorblindness, start of a play. Bills/Jets game, red & green uniforms as seen with colorblindness, players lining up. Bills/Jets game, red & green uniforms as seen with colorblindness, after a play. Bills/Jets game, red & green uniforms as seen with colorblindness, one player from each team. Bills/Jets game, red & green uniforms as seen with  multiple forms of colorblindness. Bills/Jets game, red & green uniforms as seen with  multiple forms of colorblindness.
Images captured using the Chromatic Vision Simulator app on my phone. The last two images show three different kinds of colorblindness each: protanopia, deuteranopia, and tritanopia.

The NFL provided a great and highly visible (pun!) case study in how colorblindness affects people and, given football’s wide appeal in the US, got people talking about an issue they might otherwise forget.

A professor of color science distilled what happened pretty succinctly (moreso than his title):

The failure is that the NFL didn’t test those uniform colors through the TV system.

The broadcast technology isn’t the only thing that can affect how well these colors can be distinguished. Colors that otherwise have sufficient contrast from one another can have that contrast reduced dramatically from even a little glare or sunlight (not to mention what color constancy can do to our perception).

I suspect that the entire process of designing the uniforms, coordinating the Thursday night schedule, developing marketing to support it, and getting the broadcast together involved more than twelve people (for proofing and approvals in each step). Given that roughly one in twelve Americans is red-green colorblind, I’m surprised nobody caught it.

I’m hoping this proves to be a great case study for interaction / user interface / web designers. Something we can keep in mind when making user interface elements that otherwise barely pass contrast checks.

Ultimately, this is just further evidence that Big Color is in bed with the NFL.

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Update: Thanksgiving, 2015

Apparently this post was enough to give someone who works in accessibility but doesn’t care about football some common ground for dinner conversations with family who care about football but do nothing in accessibility. Yay!

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