18.4.14

Why So Blue?

I don't know if you've noticed, but I love blue.

In the olden days, before the internet and according to my son, when I lived in a cave and cooked over a pit with the newly discovered fire, we did all our charts in shades of grey.  Because only the execs had color printers.   As a result, people were so excited to create some colorful reports for the big giant heads that things got a little out of control. Some of the reports were so horrific in color, that I think they may have caused color blindness.

As a result, when I was asked to use color, I used blue.  Blue is a reasonable choice - almost everyone likes blue - both men and women, and it's associated with calm and clarity. It doesn't conflict with other colors or make a statement. Also, if someone chooses to print your blueful report on a black and white printer, you can pretty much trust the shades of grey that will come out.



Then there's color combining.  I'm not very good at that and find it especially difficult when I'm to use brand colors. Things can quickly get out of control when you are trying to use color to imply significance or range and then have to add 2 or 3 other colors that have are not responsible for anything other than making the brand recognizable. Somehow, you have to let the reader know that one color means good or bad, but the orange chart over here is orange because we like orange, even though both charts represent the measure sales. Same goes for the pink trend chart - we like pink too.

I'd suggest that if you do use a lot of colors - then use one dark color (blue or black) as your indicator/highlight/alert throughout the whole dashboard and stay away from diverging colors on the rest of the dash. That is, unless you are good at color and enjoy the challenge.

Click to read Smithsonian post (image on right is color blind simulated)
I'm fascinated by color blind people - I can't image the world that they see. I recently read this post regarding the possibility that Van Gogh was color blind. The image on the right is what they think he might have been seeing.

Isn't that amazing? I find the original deeper and richer and wondered if his other pieces would look so different.

Can you imagine this sunlit harvest without red? It twists my brain trying to figure out what someone would be seeing that would translate into this.

Someone needs to invent color blindness glasses.

You can load images into this color blindness checker by Kazunori Asada that was used to produce the image above. This is incredibly handy for dashboarding. You can take an image of your dashboard and test if it still makes logical sense to a color blind person.

I decided to look at some map options for diverging colors, to see how they might look to color blind people.  Here's some standard diverging pallets and what they would look like to a person with color blindness. Note: the most common types are protanopia and deuteropia (approx. 5-8% men).





For the most common types of color blindness, red and green result in golden greeny browns and yellows. For me, the most disappointing is the temperature (blue/green/yellow/red) color palette. It really loses it's effectiveness under all lenses. I like what happens under the tritanopia lens, but the red is a bit startling. I don't dislike any of thse color combo's but they aren't what I would have expected if I was using the these combos.

Here's what happens with blues (sequential and diverging):

























Notice I left out the red? It seems that there's not much point if it just turns into the same color as green and red has such a strong association with 'bad' or 'look out' that I rarely use it. And I'll probably never use it to make something stand out again after seeing this. I do like what happens with the gold/blue and green/blue diverging and will consider using those in the future.





What makes me blue?  When my work gets dismissed as 'pretty'.

I once had a badboss who regularly commented in meetings that once the dashboard was finished (in 6-8 months because this was a stack BI department), "...we'll give it to Kelly to make it pretty." My passive-aggressive response?  "Just make it blue."


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