Reinventing the colour wheel

06 January 2010
Miguel Neiva presents ColorAdd® colour coding system for the colourblind. Now the first fully licensed design of its kind, ColorAdd® has become a challenging and motivating project for the designer, who is currently working with a multidisciplinary team in Portugal to expand its reach.
When beginning his thesis dissertation in design and marketing at the University of Minho, Miguel Neiva was initially focused solely on the textile industry. Upon further research, Miguel realised that little is done in this industry to alleviate the constraints of colourblind individuals.

He then decided then to further explore the concept of 'inclusion' beyond his thesis and develop a complete coding system for the colourblind. Now the first fully licensed design of its kind, ColorAdd® has become a challenging and motivating project for the designer, who is currently working with a multidisciplinary team in Portugal to expand its reach.

About colour blindness

A colour vision deficiency, colour blindness is the inability to perceive differences between some of the colours that other can distinguish. Colour blindness is an inherited deficiency with no cure.

There are several types of colorblindness, the rarest being Monochromacy, which affects the perception of every color, resulting in a black and white or grey shaded vision. The most common type of color blindness is Trichromacy, which results in skewed interpretation of different shades of color. While a person with a normal vision may see up to 30000 colors, a colourblind person has his or her visual capability limited to 500 to 800 colours.

The vast majority of colourblind people have normal vision. However, this deficiency makes it impossible for those affected to perform certain everyday social and professional tasks.

Project background

Based on the notion of 'inclusion', ColorAdd® is a monochromatic graphic code that allows colourblind users  - representing about 10% of the world's population - to identify colors in situations where it is the determining factor in the decision-making, without dependence on third parties nor the discomfort of uncertainty.

The first phase of Miguel's project required much bibliographic research to define and understand colour blindness, its varieties and all the visual consequences of those affected. Furthermore, he approached medical experts to ulitise their experience in this field.

A study was conducted on a sample of colourblind people to identify their main difficulties concerning their colour blindness and the ways and methods used by them to lessen and overcome these obstacles. The results of the survey of 146 individuals showed the necessity of such a colour identification tool. 90% of the colorblind are forced to request assistance when buying clothes, more than 40% have felt a level of difficulty in social integration, and almost have 50% felt the embarrassment of choosing clothing that may not be the best. It is hard to imagine the psychological discomfort experienced upon a wrong interpretation of colors.

Colour is a key tool used healthcare, educational, transportation, computer and directional systems worldwide. Considering this, it is clear that a design brief, developed not for designers but for society in general, is indeed a significant contribution to social inclusion.

The colour code

The message of other coded systems, such as road signs, is easily read by colourblind and non-colourblind individuals alike. Thus, form was used to constitute the basis and support the construction of the representation of colour.

Above: Road signs can be understood even if colourblind

Given the universality of the colour system, with primary colours and secondary colours, this concept was adopted as the basis for the ColorAdd® system. Using primary colours, represented through simple symbols, the system was constructed through a process of logical association and direct comprehension. This makes understanding it very easy and allows a quick integration into the 'visual vocabulary' of the user, without having to memorise the symbols individually.

Its form allows the individual to simply connect the colours and their subsequent divisions with other colours through mixing simple forms combined with elementary chromatic combinations.

The system uses primary colours (CMYK), rather than the light colours (RGB) as the basis of the system. Each primary colour is associated to three forms representing blue (cyan), yellow and red (magenta).

Above: Codes for blue (cyan), yellow and red (magenta)

The secondary colours can be formed using the basic forms as if 'mixing' the primary pigments themselves, making their perception and subsequently the composition of a colour pallet easy.

Above: Secondary colour codes

Two additional forms are added, representing black and white. Together with the elements they represent lighter or darker tones of the colours.

Above: White and Black codes

Given the simple characteristics of the system, its application requires an insignificant cost, and its adoption by various industries and society can improve the satisfaction and wellbeing of a group of individuals whose particular characteristics deprive them of a fully independent every-day experience.

Above: Icons for the full colour spectrum

Project implementation

The application of the developed code is universal for all areas of social and economic uses, including transport, health, education, textile industry, paint, etc.

Within the garment industry, application of the colour identification symbols on tags or into the clothes themselves assists with the interpretation of maintenance and care.

Above: Using code system in the garment industry

When used within the educational system, such as on arts supplies or paper, the ColorAdd® system allows colourblind children to integrate perfectly without doubt or shame.

Above: Codes used on coloured pencils at school

In the setting of the healthcare system, the coding system can be used within hospital services and spaces where colour is an element of identification and guidance, making orientation an easier task for the colourblind.

Above: Colour coding on hospital bracelets made easier

Transportation systems currently utlising colours to indicate route and direction easily benefit from the ColorAdd® system, making decision-making much simpler for the colourblind.

Above: Using the code system on a public transit map

Project audience

The target market for ColorAdd® is very broad, covering all companies and organisations using colour to communicate the characteristics of its products or services anywhere in the world. The inclusivity of the coding system offers huge growth potential for companies.

The implementation of ColorAdd® includes all sectors of global society, regardless of geographical location, culture, language, religion, or the socio-economic factors.  The market has no borders as the code is universal and can be applied across all sectors and all countries.

For these reasons the design team has proceeded with the internationalisation of the project. The initial scope of ColorAdd® focused on Europe, Brazil and the United States, and has since grown to include Korea.

Outcomes and responses

There has been an enormous level of response to this project. Miguel has found it extremely motivating and rewarding to read hundreds of blogs and daily emails congratulating him on the effectiveness of the solution and the contribution he will bring to improving the quality of life for the colourblind. Individuals, companies and larger entities alike have shown willingness to use the system. Talks are already in place with potential partners, and Miguel aims to soon approach the Metro do Porto (the underground, public light-rail transportation system in Porto, Portugal) about implementing the code.

Miguel has already brought the project to the 11th World Congress of Color to demonstrate to the scientific community the potential of such a project. The reception was very positive, and the result was the accreditation and recognition of the value of this code by gurus of colour from all over the world.

The ColorAdd® system was also displayed in the Baixa Chiado metro station in Lisbon, Portugal, during EXD LISBOA 09 as a parallel event.

Above: Exhibition during EXD LISBOA 09

Current supporters

The ColorAdd® project has received supported from IAPMEI (Instituto de Apoio às Pequenas e Médias Empresas e ao Investimento) while preparing a business plan, and by AICEP (Agência para o Investimento e o Comércio Externo de Portugal) while internationalising the system. It has also received support and encouragement from EXD LISBOA 09 of the CPD - Portuguese Design Center, APD - Portuguese Designers Association, APCOR - Association Portuguese Color, AIC - International Color Association and EIDD - Design For All Europe.

Future ambitions

As design is one of Miguel's passions, many future projects await him once ColorAdd® is complete. He believes, as this is a single, transversal and intangible initiative with indisputable global contribution, the largest challenge at this time is to implement it worldwide. In order to engage partners and potential pioneers, the project will require the continued involvement and support of the efficient, capable and thus far successful multidisciplinary communication team.

About Miguel (Oporto, Portugal 1969)

Miguel has a Master's in Design and Marketing from the University of Minho and a Degree in Design in the Visual Communication option from ESAD, Oporto, Portugal (1993). He is a Professor of Master's in Fashion Communication at the University of Minho, Guimaraes, Portugal, and since 1989 has maintained a design studio oriented towards communication design and product.

Miguel has served as a jury member for the National Awards Design, sponsored by CPD, and other competitions. He presented at the AIC2009 - World Congress of color in Sydney, Australia and has been a guest speaker at various seminars, lectures and workshops. He has participated in exhibitions in Portugal and other countries, and has won prizes and participated in several competitions. His papers are published in catalogs and magazines. Miguel is the current President of APD - Portuguese Designers Association.

Miguel Neiva
Rua de Gondarém, 782, 1º andar, sala A
4150-373 Porto
T: +351 917 526 446 / 229 372 053
E: /

The above article has been published with permission from the author.