Kromofons – representing letters with colors
Oh boy. I just read an interesting article on ZDNet/News.com. A very creative guy named Dr Lee Freedman has come up with a cute idea called “Kromofons” (but the web site seesm to be down). Assign each of the 26 letters of the English alphabet a color. Then you can communicate in sequences of colors rather than letters. It allows for multi-layered communications as you can mix color-coding in with other kinds of graphics much more easily than you can mix text and graphics. Too bad the basic idea is too flawed to get very far – even though it could be fun.
Given that Freedman is a medical doctor, he should know that roughly 15% of males and 1% of females have some form of color-blindness (and not all the same kind, either, so it’s not like you can just avoid certain color combinations).
[Edit: the numbers may be closer to 7.5% and 0.5% – looks like I may have added the stats incorrectly.]
But the bigger problem is more fundamental than that. Great, 26 colors covers English. What about all the rest of the world’s languages (as my colleague John Hudson points out)? French? German? Heaven help you if you want to do Chinese or Japanese, with their thousands of symbols needed for basic literacy. The global standard for text encoding is Unicode, and it has some 100,000 characters today. Of course, even doing a few hundred colors, if you want specific colors to have unambiguous meanings, introduces big problems in color management.
I’m particularly curious how people are supposed to do things like write a handwritten note in this new format. Do we all need pens with 26 (or 26,000) colors built in? At least with Unicode, nobody is expecting people to read the sequences of Unicode codepoints….
Dr Freedman thinks Kromofons will transform how “we” think (I guess it’s if “we” are people who write only in English, online). Oh well. It’s still a fun idea, and these sorts of things are much easier to tear apart than to come up with.
[Update the same day: I was doing some more reading, and I see that Dr Freedman is himself red-green color-blind, and has given some thought to the color-blindness issues. However, that still doesn’t deal with the cultural myopia issue. – T]