Colorblind Assistant: reclaiming the world of color

Colorblind Assistant is an advanced colour-naming program that converts the color at the mouse-pointer to a name, assisting color-deficient people. Colorblind Assistant was developed in less than two weeks, as the result of about 16 hours of coding. Since the initial release, nine updates followed, each update tweaking the colour detection algorithm and adding new features, and bringing development time up to 48 hours.

Colorblind Assistant featured on tech blog: LifeHacker - Jan 28, 2012

My goal with the software was to take the premise of naming colours and deliver a clean interface with only the most useful information. I wanted a widget that I could tuck away in the bottom corner, that wouldn't get in the way when I didn't need it.

But this raises an interesting question. How does a colour-blind person design software to help other colour-blind people? Isn't this a case of the blind leading the blind?

The solution is not as difficult as you might think. I managed to find an accurate list of named colours that are standardised and accepted on wikipedia and other online sources as accurate descriptions. I never modified them or changed them to suit what I thought the colour was. Besides cleaning up a few ambiguous colour names, the original list remains intact.

But I also discovered a different way of approaching my own deficiency in my development of the software. By spending hours staring at different colours and seeing the associated names of the colours, I began to understand the complex language of colour names and where my short-coming were. I was able to identify that my problems we based in discerning cyans from light blues, and dark greens from browns. So I knew to exercise caution when using these colours. By looking for the subtle changes in the composure of the colours, I believe my colour-blindness became less of a stigma. By understanding the problem on a deeper level I learned about the subtleties of colour impairment and could understand when to exercise caution and turn to the program for help.

While I don't believe my experience in developing the software will cure me of my deficiency, I feel much more confident when discussing colours with other people. Colorblindness can result in lack-of-confidence for fear of being ridiculed, people tend to shy away from learning about colours out of fear that their own deficiency will be exposed. Using the software, colourblind people should be able to reassert their confidence, gaining the confidence to learn about colour in the privacy of their own homes.

The final point I want to discuss is about subjectivity in colour. Everybody sees colour slightly differently. Even the software has its own way of seeing colour, which is decided by the algorithm it uses. That's not to say that the software sees colour any better than you, but it's also to say that the way you see colour may disagree with the software. You might as well be arguing about the smell of a rose; the way you describe these things may be different to the way somebody else would. If you treat the software as a recommendation, not a definitive answer, you'll appreciate the software when you get the answer you want, and agree to disagree when you don't.

As a final thought, do you know who came up with these colour names in the first place? And at what amount of brightness does blue become light blue? And what's the difference between Fuscha and Magenta? I'll let you come to your own conclusions.