Design

It’s no secret that color is an important part of data visualization. In everyday life, colors have a unique power to intensify communication. (If you’ve ever seen the film Pleasantville, you know what I’m talking about here.) In fact, many colors are subconsciously connected to certain meanings. Many of these associations are cultural; in Western culture, for example, red is associated with stop and green with go. While these associations are not necessarily universal, they can be used in data visualizations to deepen the semantical relations between the data points and the real-life implications and objects they describe.

Every data visualization you create should have a color scheme, but picking the right color palette goes beyond aesthetic preference: it’s a matter of communication. The ultimate goal is clarity,  Consistent brand coloring, for example, can make your dashboard more cohesive and consistent. Even picking the color range for a specific data set can help users understand your dashboard quickly and easily.

Best Practices for Data Visualization Color Choice

  • Limit your Palette: Don’t overload your dashboard with too many colors! Stick to a maximum of 6 colors; any more than that and the brain starts to swim.
  • Keep it Natural: People find colors found in nature much more pleasing, so stay far away from neon!
  • Compare: If you are looking at sequential data, a color gradient is ideal when compare diverging data points.
  • … and Contrast – If you’ve got qualitative data, like different categories that you want to contrast, you want to find colors that are distinct from one another but also play well together.

And here’s the best part: There are a multitude of free, online resources to help you build and utilize the right color pallet for your data visualization.

Our Favorite (Free) Online Tools for Choosing Color Palettes

Canva Creating a Color Palette

Canva’s color palette tool isn’t just fun to look at, it’s immensely practical as well. This color palette generator lets you browse beautiful stock photos for inspiration, or simply drag and drop your own pics into the generator. Then, Canva will compile a set of four colors that pair with the image and complement each other. How cool is that?

i want hue 

Pick a color palette

“i want hue” is a color tool made specially for data scientists. If you’re looking for a lot of freedom and the ability to create detailed color palettes, this tool is for you. It allows you to pick your color collection, customize it, and get the HEX and RGB codes for each shade you select.

Marin Krzywinski’s Color Palettes for Color Blindness
Data Visualization Color Blindness

Colorblindness is more widespread than one may think, so it’s important to make sure we’re not creating dashboards that leave this population segment behind. This tool offers a detailed breakdown of how color blindness effects data visualization. Additionally, it provides a selection of 15 color presets that are accessible to individuals with different types of color blindness.

Adobe Color CC Adobe Color Palette

Adobe Color CC functions like a color wheel, but with the added benefit of the RGB and HEX codes associated with each shade, along with the ability to sort results by “color rules.” If you want to know the exact compliment to a shade of green or variations of a specific blue tone, Adobe Color CC can show you with the click of a button. You can also choose to play within different color rules, like monochromatic, analogous, complementary, and so forth.

Colorbrewer2 Data Visualization Color Palette

If your dashboard is showing sequential data, you want to use a gradient of colors. This tool will guarantee that the gradient you choose will be distinct enough so your audience can see the difference between each range. Explicitly, they offer “color advice for cartography,” meaning it is extremely useful if you’re using a map in your dashboard. If you want to display sales progress for different counties, for instance, this tool can help you determine which shades are best to represent different values. Additionally, it has the option to sort by color palettes that are printer friendly and colorblind safe.

Color is one of many ingredients that makes data visualization successful. Experimentation is highly encouraged here! A dashboard is a living thing that thrives from attention, so don’t be afraid to try out new color combinations until you find your rhythm.  With the right tools, you can combine your color scheme with the right charts and interface for beautiful and effective visualizations.

Post Series: Design
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Melissa Anderson Senior Graphic Designer

Melissa Anderson is a Graphic Designer with over a decade of experience in the field. She loves drawing sophisticated doodles, hanging out with her deaf pup Betty White, and riding her bike through the city she calls home, Detroit.

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