Data Visualization Toolkit: Color Design Principles

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Color is critical in displaying data. It can be used to grab the viewer’s attention, and strategic use of color ensures the viewer concentrates on key information. Color also helps in retention because it evokes emotions and links the viewer to memories. Therefore, color choices should always be intentional.

Color Design Principles

  • Colors need to be discrete so that each category/grouping is easily distinguishable. Avoid using gradients or colors that are too similar.
  • Some colors and some color combinations are easier to view on a computer, in print, or during a presentation. Test color combinations in the format they will be viewed.
  • Limit the number of colors used and use one color palette throughout a document. It’s best to begin with black and white when designing and then add color emphasis as needed. Use the same or similar schemes for tables, graphs, text boxes, etc.
  • When presenting large amounts of text, aim for maximum contrast between the text and the background. Studies show that dark text on white or lightly tinted background produces the highest comprehension (Evergreen, 2014).
  • Be sensitive to color-blind individuals. See the Accessibility section for details.

Here is a PPT slide that uses a rainbow’s worth of color, but not with intention (Figure 1)! The colors are random. This makes it difficult to focus on the message. Some of the text colors lack contrast to the background and do not follow accessibility guidelines making the text difficult to read.

Figure 2 presents the same PPT slide with a simple color palette and a high contrast between text and background. PPT slide in Figure 2 purposefully uses one color.

Figure 1: PPT Chart “Why Determine Root Cause?”

Figure 1: Use of too many colors that are not adding to comprehension

Figure 2: Appropriate use of color

Figure 2: Appropriate use of color