By Chris Welsch
How could colour-blind people find out what the beach safety flags signify? And how could they put together a matching outfit, or avoid bullying at school for drawing green skies? A graphic designer, Miguel Neiva, came up with a solution.
Neiva always saw the world in colour, and saw those colours as vital tools in his work. Imagining how it would feel to lose the ability to see colour was a fearful prospect to him, and led him to investigate how colour-blind people navigate the vivid world that he took for granted.
“When I started doing research I found there was nothing — no system at all”, he said, throwing up his hands to show his bewilderment. “More than 350 million people are colour-blind but there was no help for them. I was looking for an idea for my Master’s thesis, and this became it.”
For Neiva, a 49-year-old native of Porto, Portugal, the project quickly became more than an academic exercise. For his Master’s thesis, at the Universidade do Minho, he developed a simple, symbolic language that can express the whole range of colours. After graduating with his Master’s degree in 2008, he has devoted himself to spreading that language globally, using a social business model with the long-term goal of distributing the system worldwide.
Neiva’s initiative is one of the past winners in the EIB Institute's annual Social Innovation Tournament, which recognises and supports European social entrepreneurs whose primary purpose is to generate a social, ethical or environmental impact.
He works with a team of six employees in an open-plan office on the second story of a building in central Porto, across the street from his home.
Talking on a sunny day on the terrace of a restaurant nearby, Neiva said that the name of his invented language and his business, ColorADD, refers to the system of colour addition familiar to young students everywhere.
“When you are a child you learn that when you add two primary colours, like blue and yellow, you get a third colour: green”, he said.
The basic ColorADD language is neatly illustrated in its logo: there are three intersecting circles, each representing a primary colour, each represented by a symbol (opposite triangles and a line), and at the three intersections there are combinations of the three symbols, to indicate purple, green and orange. Beyond this basic structure, more complex combinations of the symbols represent various shades and hues. Because the language is entirely symbolic, it is easily interpreted by speakers of any language.