I have a deep, dark secret to tell.
While I’ve hidden it most of my adult life, it’s something that I was relatively open about as a child, before learning it should never be spoken of again, out of consequential fear. But the time may now be right to let down my guard, and share …
I’ve never been blessed with a sense of fashion.
That’s not the secret; that’s just an obvious truth. As a child, my mother tended to buy (or more usually make) the majority of my clothing, so I was at the whims of her tastes, which leaned further into cowboy territory than I was really prone to go myself. Still, it made her happy I suppose.
However, once I reached 7th grade, I began to want to chose my clothes myself, and the severity of my ailment became readily apparent. I tended to chose whatever caught my eye, regardless of how stylish or well-put together. Once I reached high-school, I tried even harder, only to discover I had a distinct disregard for making patterns match.
At the end of the 1980s, I went through a short neon-color phase (including a dayglo white t-shirt that I wish I still had) before finally settling on the look I retain to this day.
I wear black, almost exclusively.
Many have looked at me and knowingly nodded, thinking they know why.
In college, I was accused of being into ‘mope rock’, which then turned to accusations of being ‘emo’ and a ‘goth’ as years went by. As untrue as this was, it was easier than allowing the truth to be known.
(It’s also been pointed out to me that black is a slimming color. While this may not be the main reason for my color choice, it’s not unwelcomed.)
But none of this is the secret either.
I’m not sure when I decided I’d be a graphic designer. Long before I knew what it was called, I suppose. In elementary school, I alternated between wanting to be a cook, an astronaut, and/or a scientist. During one of our career fairs in middle school, I watched a film strip about commercial art, as it was known at the time. I don’t particularly remember being overly intrigued, but I do remember to this day the narrator discussing the finer points of choosing the proper crunch sound for a cheese puff snack, and the importance of getting it right.
In high school, I figured I’d either become an actor or do something visually artistic, or become a genetic engineer. I suppose it was my senior year, finally, that I decided on graphic design. Not that I had shown an aptitude for this career, but more because I hadn’t shown much of an aptitude for anything else at that point. I received my Bachelor of FIne Arts degree in 1994, and I’ve worked in print ad design primarily ever since.
Wearing black. And not because I’m ‘creative’ or ‘moody.’ (I am, but that’s not why.)
In my high school art classroom, there was a poster on the wall showing columns and rows of red apples. At the bottom was the slogan “Be Yourself!”
It wasn’t until the end of the school year that a casual remark by a classmate made me realize that one of the apples was green.
I shrugged it off. It was nothing new to me. I’d been color blind all my life.
And there’s my secret.
For someone who doesn’t have it, colorblindness is difficult to understand. It’s not always the inability to see a color; it’s the inability to see a color correctly. Reds, browns and greens all blend together for me, as do blues and purples – but this all depends on the light and the surrounding colors as well. At night, I can always tell the difference between a red light and a green light. But green lights and street lights can be the same color to me.
Just because something is green does not mean I will see it as red. Sometimes I do; sometimes I see it correctly, and sometimes, I see a color that has no name and internally I tend to refer to as ‘guess-me-gray’.
(If you know someone who is colorblind, stop shoving things in their face and asking them what color it is. Really. They hate it, I promise you.)
So, how does someone who is color blind become a designer? With either great care, or utter lack of it.
I work with primary colors (red, blue and yellow) because I cannot possibly confuse them with each other. I avoid earth tones or colors that are too similar to each other. Also, I keep references of color names and the codes that I need to properly recreate them. This is a wonderful thing, and I wish I had had it as a child, because there were far too many times I colored grass with the brown crayon because the label had torn off.
(That’s another quick way to annoy a colorblind person: tear all the labels off their crayons. Granted, that’s pretty annoying, anyway; but for someone who is color blind, you’ve taken an extra, more devious step.)
Of course, choosing to work in newspaper was an additional huge help, since the majority of the work I do is in black and white; no color required. Even so, I learned long ago to never tell prospective employers about my deficiency and to just let my work speak for itself. It’s hard to trust a designer who has to second guess color matches. (Oddly, some people have trouble trusting a designer who doesn’t wear all black. Go figure.)
So there it is, my darkest, longest kept secret of my adult life. I’ve always been color blind, and I always will be.
And the next time you see me, please don’t ask me what color your shirt is, or think I’m a middle-aged goth. Just remember that wearing all black means there are no colors to match.
The slimming effect is just a happy accident.