Design is all about solving problems.  That’s nothing new.  Sometimes the problems are related to making a story fit into 30 seconds.  Other times the problems are rooted in reconciling a client’s notes with your creative vision.

This particular day the problem was unique.  We were all staring at the email, unsure of what the next step would be.

There it was.  In BIG BOLD type:  DID NOT PASS PSE TESTING.

“What’s PSE Testing?”, a designer asked.  It was a great question.

We’ve been stopped in our tracks before by focus groups, but this was different.

PSE stands for “Photosensitive Epilepsy”.  Certain flashes and patterns in video can cause seizures in certain people sensitive to that type of stimuli.

The most infamous seizure events include a 1993 commercial for “Pot Noodles” in the U.K. and a 1997 episode of Pokemon that led to over 650 hospital admissions in Japan.

Here’s a Simpson’s clip poking fun at that event:

In this case the offender was our promo teaser for the new Disney game-centric programming block D|XP.  The edit featured really fast cut flashing graphics glitching on and off in rapid succession.  It was just too fast.  Too furious.

So how does testing work?  Fortunately they don’t stick a bunch of a kids in a room and see how sick they get.  Instead there’s something called the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer based on research by Professor Graham Harding of Aston University.

This BBC article quotes an expert as saying, "The analyzer detects changes in luminance and red flashes.  Red is a particularly difficult color, a known trigger for epileptic seizures."

We didn’t have much red in our D|XP graphics package, but we did have a lot of luminance changes.  A lot.

Addressing PSE Testing failures can sometimes take a bit of trial and error to preserve the original creative intent while making the video safe.  Slowing the speed of animation, lowering the contrast and/or darkening parts of the image are often strategies that work.

In our case we worked with D|XP to tweak the graphics and deliver a seriously cool and safe campaign.

Check it out here:

NOTE:  Mandatory PSE testing is usually reserved for spots that fall under Ofcom rules in the UK.