The dark side of color

Like most college instructors, I use the Blackboard online learning system. And like some of those (possibly misguided) instructors, I believe I can keep students’ attention by adding color to the software’s dour design.

It’s easy to do. You just go into an assignment, click “Edit,” and in a few seconds you can make the title of the assignment a pretty color.

Oh boy! Color! Can you feel the excitement?

For a few semesters now, I have been noticing two things about the color choices for such titles. First: Each option on the color wheel that pops up has a formal name. Second: Those names, without exception, make me want to slit my wrists.

Want to turn that project title a grassy green? You’ll have to slime it with Obscure Dull Spring.

Would you like to soften the headline for the test by applying an “It’s a Boy!” azure? It’s Medium Faded Blue for you. (Thank goodness Evite doesn’t use the same color system as Blackboard. Planning your little fellow’s baby shower could get depressing real quick).

Everywhere you turn, it’s Pale Weak Cyan, Dark Hard Yellow, or Obscure Gray. You can keep clicking around that color wheel, but I guarantee it’s not getting any better – for either your bored students or an event invite.

Yesterday, I finally Googled these wacky hues. It just gets better! (And of course by that I mean worse). It turns out that Blackboard uses the VisiBone Anglo-Centric Color Code, or VACCC, which one website calls a  “web safe palette.” Each tone has both a name and a six-character code to ensure that it appears uniformly across the Internet.

I’m sorry, but knowing that Obscure Gray (a.k.a. #333333) is Obscure Gray anywhere you use it is not any more uplifting. And why in the world call it “Anglo-Centric?” aren’t colors political enough as it is? Have those cavity-inducing diversity festivals I grew up with done nothing?

Of course, the more familiar alternative is no better. It’s the Pantone Matching System (PMS).

Well, I think we can do better. I’ll bet if a group of faculty members put a little thought into this, with the aid of a few bar napkins (and a lot of bar), we could conceive a friendlier alternative.

Perhaps the Color Matching Attribute Tone Encyclopedia (Color MATE)? Or the Pantone Universal Real Tone Yardstick? Hey, I’m already on a role. And I haven’t even had my first amber pint.

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Filed under Humor, Teaching

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