Eric Bargenda, Design Director, shares the challenges and benefits of a career in graphic design as a member of the tribe of the colour blind…
I don’t have a specific memory or embarrassing moment from my childhood that marks the moment I realized I was colourblind. It was stated rather matter-of-factly for most of my life, but as I’d never truly ‘seen’ colour, I didn’t really miss it or know what the fuss was about. It wasn’t until I was much older, in college actually and studying graphic design when the deficiency not only emerged as an embarrassment but became a true road block.
Like most people in my field, I was an artistic kid and drawn to strong visual design and bold (and apparently ‘odd’) colour combinations; something my Wife/Creative Director/Business Partner points out daily whether I’m shopping for new sneakers or the perfect comic book character t-shirt. None of the work I ever did was criticized or singled out for its poor colour choice—in fact my dad always encouraged me to use more colour in my work. I was clearly more comfortable illustrating in black and white rather than using the abundance of pencil crayons and paints my family would buy me over the years. Frankly, I saw this as about as useful as obscure punctuation. Looking back at it now, I can’t help but feel that this stubborn insistence on greyscale was a subconscious way of adapting to my frustration.
Many years later and here I am; Design Director of a tenured, Toronto-based, advertising and design agency. I’ve worked on projects for Hydro One, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, Canadian Stage and many other interesting and successful companies. One of the reasons I’ve been able to work with these clients was my decision—and believe me, it was a “decision”—to let my team know that I’m lousy with colour usage. Lucky for me, and certainly our clients, I’m supported by a great group of creative people who are exceptional at creating gorgeous, fully-realized colour palettes. This skill is something that never fails to blow my mind—it’s like watching Houdini, I swear. But the truth is, I’m mostly coasting on the reaction of the fully colour sighted, because the palettes that inspire awe at the agency often look like microwaved leftovers to me.
I do see colour, sort of. But I’m assured that I see it ‘wrong’. Over the years, I’m pretty good as guessing which hues I see should be identified as blue or green or red or yellow, but I understand that I really don’t know what these colours should be. The best way to explain it is that I do know these colours, but in my own way. You could pity people like me, because we will never see what you do, but then again, what if our interpretation of colour is better?
So now, I’m embracing and sharing my weakness in a series on colourblindness and the creatives that deal with it everyday. Like Patton Oswald said, “My weakness is strong.”
No telethon planned yet.