Map Design for the Color Vision Deficient

  • Dave HobbinsEmail author
Living reference work entry


The golden rule of map design states that one should carefully consider both a map’s purpose and its audience. Maps designed for the general public frequently fail to consider the portion of our population with color vision impairment or color vision deficiency (CVD), known more commonly as color blindness. Recent studies indicate that over 5% of our Caucasian male population are susceptible to congenital or inherited color vision deficiency. CVD also can be acquired from chemical exposure, injury, illness, medication, and aging. With the exception of aging, little or no data exists on the number of people impaired by any of these non-congenital causes. The predominant color impairment from congenital CVD is a red-green differentiation problem, whereas blue is considered universally recognizable by the congenital group. However, recent research has revealed that as many as 20% of those studied over the age of 72 suffer from a blue-yellow defect that increases with age to nearly 50% at age 90. This acquired blue-yellow defect also is the predominant CVD for those suffering from chemical exposure. This chapter examines the effects of CVD and attempts to illustrate the impact of color choices on visually impaired audiences. It shows that the acquired CVD population is growing and suggests colors and alternatives in map design to minimize that impact. Finally, it introduces several tools that may be used in selecting appropriate colors or used to evaluate color choices when designing maps.


Map design Color blindness Color vision deficiency CVD Acquired CVD Color vision impairment 


  1. American Optometric Association. (2014). Color vision deficiency. Retrieved 26 May 2015, from
  2. Brewer, C. A. (1997). Spectral schemes: Controversial color use on maps. Cartography and Geographic Information Systems, 24(4), 203–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brewer, C. A. (2005). Designing better maps: A guide for GIS users. Redlands: E.S.R.I. Press.Google Scholar
  4. Brewer, C., Harrower, M., & The Pennsylvania State University. (2002). ColorBrewer 2.0. Retrieved 2 June 2015, from
  5. Center for Universal Design. (2008). About UD. The Center for Universal Design. Retrieved 28 May 2015, from
  6. Central Intelligence Agency. (2001). Long-term global trends: Reshaping the geopolitical landscape. Retrieved 20 Apr 2015, from
  7. Central Intelligence Agency. (n.d.). The world factbook 2013–2014. Retrieved 28 Dec 2015, from
  8. Clark, J. (2002). Building accessible websites. Chapter 9: Type and color. Available from
  9. Color Universal Design Organization. (2015). CUDO English pages. Retrieved 29 May 2015, from
  10. Colour Blind Awareness. (n.d.). Retrieved 12 Jan 2016, from
  11. Culp, C. M. (2012). Increasing accessibility for map readers with acquired and inherited colour vision deficiencies: A re-colouring algorithm for maps. The Cartographic Journal, 49(4), 302–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. EIZO NANAO Corporation. (2006). Color Universal Design handbook. Retrieved 29 May 2015, from
  13. Gardner, S. D. (2005). Evaluation of the ColorBrewer color schemes for accommodation of map readers with impaired color vision. M.S. Thesis, Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved 28 May 2015, from
  14. Gobba, F., & Cavalleri, A. (2003). Color vision impairment in workers exposed to neurotoxic chemicals. Neurotoxicology, 24(2003), 693–702.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Haegerstrom-Portnoy, G., Schneck, M., & Brabyn, J. A. (1999). Seeing into old age: Vision function beyond acuity. Optometry and Vision Science, 76(3), 141–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Iregren, A., Andersson, M., & Nylen, P. (2002). Color vision and occupational chemical exposures: I. An overview of tests and effects. Neurotoxicology, 23(2002), 719–733.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jackson, R., MacDonald, L., & Freeman, K. (1994). Computer generated colour: A practical guide to presentation and display. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  18. Jenny, B. (2013). Color Oracle: Design for the color impaired. Retrieved 1 June 2015, from
  19. Jenny, B., & Kelso, N. V. (2007). Color design for the color vision impaired. Cartographic Perspectives, 58, 61–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kalloniatis, M., & Luu, C. (2015). Color perception by Michael Kalloniatis and Charles Luu. WebVision. Retrieved 7 May 2015, from
  21. Karagol-Ayan, B. (2001). Color vision confusion. TEWM of Digital Technology. Retrieved 15 Jan 2016, from
  22. Lloyd, R. (1997). Visual search processes used in map reading. Cartographica, 34(1), 11–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Merbs, S. L., & Nathans, J. (1992). Absorption spectra of human cone pigments. Nature, 356, 433–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. National Center on Universal Design for Learning. (2015). About UDL. Retrieved 28 May 2015, from
  25. National Eye Institute. (2015). Facts about color blindness. Retrieved 12 Jan 2016, from
  26. Okabe, M., & Ito, K. (2008). Color Universal Design (CUD) – How to make figures and presentations that are friendly to colorblind people. J*FLY. Retrieved 11 May 2015, from
  27. Robinson, A. H., Morrison, J. L., Muehricke, P. C., Kimerling, A. J., & Guptill, S. C. (1995). Elements of cartography. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  28. Salvi, S. M., Akhtar, S., & Currie, Z. (2006). Ageing changes in the eye. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 82(971), 581–587.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Schneck, M. E., Haegerstrom-Protnoy, G., Lott, L. A., & Brabyn, J. A. (2014). Comparison of panel D-15 tests in a large older population. Optometry and Vision Science, 91(3), 284–290.Google Scholar
  30. Sharpe, L. T., Stockman, A., Jagle, H., & Nathans, J. (1999). Opsin genes, cone photopigments, color vision, and color blindness. In K. R. Gegenfurtner & L. T. Sharpe (Eds.), Color vision: From genes to perception (pp. 3–51). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Vrenko, D. Z., & Petrovic, D. (2015). Effective online mapping and map viewer design for the senior population. The Cartographic Journal, 52(1), 73–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Wickline, M. and Human-Computer Interaction Resource Network. (2001). Coblis (Color Blindness Simulator). Retrieved from
  33. Wright, W. D. (1952). The characteristics of tritanopia. Journal of the Optical Society of America, 42(8), 509–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Xie, J. Z., Tarczy-Hornoch, K., Lin, J., Cotter, S. A., Torres, M., & Varma, R. (2014). Color vision deficiency in preschool children. Ophthalmology, 121(7), 1469–1474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Applied Forest Management ProgramUniversity of Maine at Fort KentFort KentUSA

Personalised recommendations