7 Feb 2012
In 1995, back when the Web design and development industry was only atoddler, we began to be able to work with color. Of course, many readers will remember the need for "web safe" color when a typical video card and monitor could only calculate 256 colors. With 50 of those reserved for system use, we ended up with a 216 color palette that was considered most consistent across all browsers. I had come from the world of dumb terminals, so I was used to green or amber text on black and it never occurred to me that having to limit a color palette for this new and exciting communication space might feel limiting to some.
Over the next year, I was brutally disavowed of this by my students, who regularly would grouse about the lack of "real" color on the Web. Almost as new to the Web as my students, I was struggling for a way to explain this to them that showed that 216 colors was actually a luxury for many people in 1995 - up to and including working Web designers, who often had to limit the palette even more if they were serving users without 256 or more color support. Then one day, I stopped by my office to pick something up, and one of the daytime professors whom I'd not met was there. She jumped up and gave me a hug, expressing great personal warmth and an artist's excitement about the Web. "Molly," she said. "I feel so free on the Web. I've been working in print design my entire career and Ifinally get to work with more than four colors!"
Suffice it to say, I had found a positive answer for my students! At the time, her response was very unique. Nowadays, we never really need to think about color limitations anymore, except insofar as those who take extra care in designing for forms of color blindness. Otherwise, on-screen color palettes in the millions exist in today's Web design and development. It is a solved problem, and if that problem can be solved, so can the many others which we face. Go forth today and color the world, and embrace our progress as creatives, technologists and an industry.