BI Trends

Visual Design in Business Intelligence: Coloring for Attention

Consider color to be an outfit accessory: the right accessory will make an impact and convey a message, but overdo accessories and the look will fall apart! The same is true in fashion, furnishing a home, or presenting information.

In the previous post in this series, we introduced our first design principle – “Eyes Follow the Lines.” Starting with our inspiration from other industries like Fashion, Art, and Architecture, we will keep the discussion going by turning our attention to how color plays into dashboard design.

Principle 2: Color and Pop!

Consider color to be an outfit accessory: the right accessory will make an impact and convey a message, but overdo accessories and the look will fall apart! The same is true in Fashion,  furnishing a home, or presenting information.

How then can we use color to make a visual impact? To illustrate, discover which number you see first:

 

Most likely you first noticed 55, then 67, and then the rest. 55 is often first not just because it is colored, but also because it is RED. Human eyes are wired to see red first by design. The next number most people select is 67 because it is the next colored item that “pops” after red. You can make effective use of colors in drawing attention to the most important items first, followed by the supplemental information.

However, like we said before, too much color can be distracting. Take for example our next question. Which map makes it easier to identify counties with a positive growth rate?

As soon as we introduce more colors in a small space, it becomes difficult to gather useful patterns or draw our audience to one single point unless the data is highly skewed to do so. Thus, for most people, it will take much longer to answer the question of which maps shows the county with positive growth. That being said, Map A, with subtle hues arranged on a gradient, is much easier to read than Map B, which displays bright colors all over the place.

* Courtesy: www.ColorBrewer.org

In dashboard design, colors are mostly used for thresholds and highlights, as shown in the tables below. Which one of the two tables makes it easier to identify the poor performers?

Most people would select Table 2 because it is much easier to spot the numbers with just one color than having a colored number and a highlight color. The highlights are distractions in the table.

I usually keep the following things in mind when incorporating colors:

  • When using colors for background, keep them muted, neutral, and subtle.
  • Limit the use of colors for background, navigation buttons, and title to a max of 3.
  • Less is more when using colors with numbers/data.
  • When using colors on a heat map, it is easier to read with hues of a single color than multiple colors.
  • When using the “Color By” function in Visual Insight, if coloring by a metric value, use hues of a single color.
  • When using Color By based on an attribute, use different colors for different elements of an attribute, but always balance readability.

We will continue with the principles in the next blog of this series. Keep reading to see how these all come together to help you design impactful and visually stunning dashboards!

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