Coming Out: Embracing Your Quirks Can Help Your Business

"I love color!" vision testThis month, Word Carnival carnies are exploring our own freakiness and how we use it to build stronger brands – and how you can do the same! As soon as we’d chosen the theme, I knew exactly what I wanted to share…the “tell me something I don’t know about you” quirk that affects my life every day and in dozens of ways, that’s the hardest to share and yet wants to leap out and be known at opportunities like this:

I am a colorblind artist.

Ok, that’s the shock-value version of the statement…the one that’s not really fair to either you or me, and yet is strangely the easiest for most people to “get” because it’s oversimplified and puts me into tidy boxes. You probably know someone who’s “colorblind”…up to 1 in 10 Caucasian males are. I know which questions come next: “How do you DRIVE?” and “You know your shirt is pink, right?” It can be tiring, but not offensive.

The REAL story is that I have a color vision difference in which some of the retinal cones that perceive colors in the green-yellow-red portion of the light spectrum are faulty; this can be called daltonism (after English chemist John Dalton), deuteranopia, or the more detailed but still misleading “red-green colorblind”. It is true that for me certain shades of green can be indistinguishable from brown or yellow, that some reds can look brown, and pink can look gray. Violet, lavender, purple, and blue can all seem quite similar to me as well, since the red wavelengths are weak or stripped out. Real live rainbows have only two stripes for me: blue and yellow. It’s also a little indirect to say I’m an “artist”, since the potential image or association of me trying to mix paints, for example, wouldn’t be accurate. As a graphic designer, I’m fortunate to have digital tools to help me sort out colors. I’ll get to those.

How Do My Quirks Help Me?

I’ve known that my color vision is different since I was very young. It’s genetic; my maternal grandfather was kept from flying military aircraft because of it, so my mother had me tested very early. (Each of the few times I’ve seen a new eye doctor, the test is always standard because of my gender, and each time they try to break it to me gently, as if I have a disease. This amuses me, and relieves them when I share that I already “know”.) Because I have never been able to trust exactly what my eyes are telling me, I have lots of other strategies for figuring out what’s what, and they actually make me a BETTER designer:

  • Purple is usually DARKER than blue. I have to know and notice qualities beyond the obvious or the easy-to-take-for-granted. That way of thinking helps me identify colors even when I can’t actually see them the same way you do, AND helps me problem solve more generally by approaching from various angles and paying attention to the relationships between things rather than relying on a given thing alone.

  • A green tiger? How DARING! I once painted a picture of a tiger, taking unusual effort to be detailed and accurate, only to be praised for my maverick use of green when I’d really just meant to use true-to-life orange. At that time, I was crushed, but what the experience freed me to do is not be so attached to the “proper” or “normal” colors of things, and be a little more experimental. Fortunately the Universe seems to favor happy accidents over catastrophes, and that’s how I found out that brown and pink actually look good together.
  • Art imitates life. No need to reinvent the (color) wheel: if I need a design element, I find it and photograph it, and then I can sample from it. This works for capturing colors, textures, patterns, and more. For me, this is faster and more efficient than trying to conjure colors out of my imagination and digitally mix them up. From a philosophical standpoint, it also brings an element of life into the design, which is attractive to me.

What If I Need Help?

I do, first of all. I do need help. Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier, I have resources for getting the information I need. My top 3 are:

  • The Color Detector app by Mobialia uses my Android smartphone’s camera to identify colors within a very small focal area on the screen. When I have the color I want within that area and click, Color Detector gives me HTML, RGB, and CSV codes for the nearest color in its vast library. It even shows the color’s name (and will speak it out loud if enabled!). Since it’s using a camera, the quality and quantity of light affect the accuracy of the read, and the flash sometimes just washes out the area so that it reads white, but this tool is great for capturing reference points and getting me close.

  • The Rainbow Color Tools add-on for Firefox, by Heather Arthur, is an amazing tool that any digital artist or web designer can appreciate, regardless of how their retinal cones are installed. This tool has a standard full-spectrum color picker, a Library feature that lets you save and build a library of favorite or often used colors, and even a site analyzer tool that’ll instantly collect and display the palette of colors used on the website you’re on when you activate it. The feature I use most often, however, is the Inspector: it puts a box next to my cursor that analyzes each pixel I touch, showing me the hex code for that color (hex is an HTML color system…for example, black is #000000). For grabbing colors from photographs, Photoshop will also show me individual pixels and various ways of expressing them digitally.

  • Asking a human is much more subjective, but the emotional/relational feedback is priceless. Female ones are best (99.5% have perfect color vision), so my wife gets the occasional oversight request from me. My other resource is the client themselves. In general I like to approach design projects in a collaborative energy anyway, so as a natural extension of that I like for my clients to be in the “art director” role some of the time. After all, it’s THEIR identity we’re playing with, and there are SO many more variables to consider than simply “Is this the right color?”. In a color-choosing session, I’m working overtime to notice relationships between colors, note precisely the codes for which colors we like, consider what objects in the real world have similar colors or properties that we might be able to photograph, etc. It’s a chore, to be quite honest, and if I haven’t openly divulged my color vision difference, it carries the constant anxiety of being “found out”. I think this post is part of my journey into sharing that detail more openly AND trusting my tools and problem-solving skills enough to let go some of that anxiety when I haven’t shared.

That’s all well and good, but what about YOUR quirks?

Consider this a case study in how to re-approach and re-frame your more unique traits into something that works FOR you. As a small business owner, YOU are deeply a part of your business, so even something like being right-handed but left-footed is a quirk you can use. Analyze how that shapes your decision-making or skill diversity. Draw attention to the experiences you’ve had as a result of your quirks, and the tools you employ to reinforce or counter-balance them. You and your quirks are beautiful, and they are precisely what highlight you from the crowd. Come out and own them, because after all, the world needs your originality. You just have to grow into it.

This post is part of the May 2012 Word Carnival — a monthly group blogging event specifically for small business owners started by Tea Silvestre, the Word Chef. Check out the rest of this month’s excellent lineup here.
Also, there are approximately one million bajillion articles about “color blindness”, many of which are great. The Wikipedia entry on “Color blindness” is quite good as a starting point if you want to know more on the technical end.

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16 Responses to Coming Out: Embracing Your Quirks Can Help Your Business

  1. Pingback: Quirkology: How to Be Brandtastic by Embracing Your Weirder Bits | Word Carnivals

  2. Sandi Amorim says:

    My brother is colour blind in that red-green way and when we were kids we spent countless hours testing him. My sister and I were sure he was doing it to get attention!

    The thing I love most about this topic is the possibility of really owning our quirks, not just tolerating them or suppressing them. Owning them, discovering ways to work with them, use them well, etc. I wish children could be taught this at school. Imagine that.
    Sandi Amorim recently posted..For the Love of SilenceMy Profile

    • evan says:

      There’s a phase of young life where it’s a great attention-getter, for sure. :) Imagine that indeed…check out Carol’s post a little further down for how she taught children just that!

  3. Loved this piece, evan. Thanks for sharing your tools and wisdom!

    My step dad is also color blind and was denied access to fighter planes, too. It’s funny how our so-called weaknesses end up being some of the best instigators for learning how to deal with life. He became an astrophysicist and author and made quite the better contribution to this planet, I think.
    Tea Silvestre recently posted..Quirky Much? How Your Oddities, Flaws and Peculiar Habits Help Build a Stronger BrandMy Profile

  4. Well, I wasn’t expecting that revelation, Evan, but it’s a great illustration of how differences can actually become strengths.
    Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted..The Quirky Bits of My Writing BrandMy Profile

  5. Annie Sisk says:

    WOW, Evan. I knew the backstory but I’d never really sat down and fully considered the ramifications for your work. It’s even more amazing, what you do – now that I’ve seen your work for different clients. Tony Robbins (yeah, yeah, I know, but he’s a fabulous speaker) remarked in a TED talk I saw recently that it’s not the people who were given all the tools and resources and support we all crave that reach massive success – it’s the folks who were CHALLENGED!
    Annie Sisk recently posted..It’s the Quirks That Make You Irresistible: Three Case Studies in QuirkologyMy Profile

    • evan austin says:

      LOL, I wouldn’t expect you to have pondered it like I have, Annie! :) It really is fascinating (if I can say that without sounding to self-absorbed) what kinds of alternative thinking processes I’ve had to develop in order to operate normally. I still feel an acute fear from that sharing, though. There’s simply no way for me to show you what I see, nor for you to show me what you see, so no amount of technical explanation is going to remove that inherent “miss”, which can result in fear and distrust. That is my fear.

  6. Carol Lynn says:

    Wow, this was not only revealing but pretty amazing. I love your green tiger story and the lesson you took away from that (eventually!) Years ago when I taught kindergarten one of my “things” (I suppose my teacher quirks?) was that I didn’t want my kids doing things “the right way”. I was the one constantly challenging, “why’s a tiger gotta be orange?” There’s no need to be attached to a “right way” and it can, in fact, be utterly detrimental to your business. Here’s how I know that thinking quirky works: to this day I have kids from my classes (who have well graduated college by now) who still get in touch with me and talk about how awesome their “green tiger” (so to speak) experiences were and how it still affects how they think of themselves. Win!

    Your techniques for working with color are pretty brilliant, too. Just goes to show that the only excuses for not doing something you love/want are the ones you invent.
    Carol Lynn recently posted..Hack Your Marketing: Turn Tiny Details Into Big Results By Tapping Into This One Overlooked, Underused And Uniquely Quirky ResourceMy Profile

    • evan says:

      Carol, GREAT story! I would have benefited from a teacher like you (and I did have some.) I am that way with my own kids and those I teach as well…challenging the norms and the embedded reasons why things are as they are. Sometimes there are excellent reasons, sometimes not…sometimes valid consequences for crossing those lines, often not. The point is the questioning and the process. I love “green tiger experiences” as a phrase…I’ll be using that one again, for sure!

  7. Nicole Fende says:

    Evan, this is right up there with the surprise ending of Ace Ventura Pet Detective (what, you want high art? ok how about The Crying Game).

    Seriously I was floored. Then I was amazed. Then I was curious. I started considering all the ways it made your perspective new and fresh. The ruts are most dangerous for us as small business owners, and this has got me thinking. Are there ways or tools we can use to force the fresh perspective? Kind of a Stranger in a Strange Land approach to marketing.

    P.S. Do you still have the green tiger?
    Nicole Fende recently posted..For More Profit, Just Add QuirksMy Profile

    • evan austin says:

      Nicole, you’re hilarious! Thanks for pondering it for a moment with me…I like the concept of forcing the fresh perspective. Reminds me of a book I’ve been neglecting that ANY of us would benefit from: Caffeine for the Creative Mind.
      I don’t think I have the green tiger anymore! I would hang it up proudly now. I’ve moved a bunch in the past few years though…it may yet surface. :)

  8. SandyMc says:

    Incredible Evan. As a lapsed graphic designer your revelation was truly awe-inspiring.

    Then it made me think about the subjectivity of colour. We had clients that would go into paroxysms of despair at the slightest nuance of change in a tone of colour and others who didn’t give a fig if it was green blue or green yellow as long as it was some short of shade of greenish colour.

    What worked in the end was exactly what you pointed out, collaboration. Taking them through the process, involving them in the printing, letting them choose the colours from the PMS swatches. This could be a tough one, letting go of our designer’s ego – I had to evolve into that!

    Love how you have worked through and found tools to resolve any issues with this quirk. What I love even more is that you ARE a graphic designer. I imagine many with colour blindness would either have been dissuaded from that choice of career or would have let their monkey brain do the dissuading, the little voice in one’s head saying ‘you can’t do that’. The fact that you followed your passion speaks volumes to me.

    Like Nicole, it got me thinking about the ‘tools to force a fresh perspective.’ Thank you for being fearless and sharing.
    SandyMc recently posted..Quirkology. Separating the cream from the wishy-washy-whey.My Profile

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