Discussion-Color

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To promote reading of the papers on Color in advance of the presentation, add a comment related to information visualization after your name. You might support or object to part of it, describe a new citation that confirms/challenges the arguments, add links to other especially relevant websites, describe especially good/bad examples of color use, etc.

Blue, Ryan David

  • I like the statement, "do not use color to decorate the display." I think we all do this far too often, especially when using office products that insert them by default.
  • I also like the guidance to avoid needlessly fancy effects, like 3D. It not only is distracting, but it makes printing difficult and inflates file sizes. I'm one of those people that forces all email to appear in plain text though, so you may disagree.

Daken, Abigail Ann

To add to the discussion about color and culture, in his book _Consilience_, E.O. Wilson talks about the biological basis for language, and one very powerful example he gives is about color perception. This is in line with the connections in the MacDonald paper.

Some languages have words for very few color, while others have words for many of them. However, which colors are named is not random. In languages that have words for two colors, the colors are always black and white. If there are three, they are black, white and red. If four, either yellow or green is added, and if five, it's the other one. (Note the correspondence here to the discussion of photoreceptor sensitivities in the MacDonald paper. Coincidence? I think not!) If I recall, the next one is blue, then pink, then grey and so on up through the first 11 colors. I may have a couple colors out of order here, as I am working from memory, but the overall point is that which colors are easily distinguished has something to do with either the hardwired structure of our visual perception, or with common elements of human experience (e.g. it's important to recognize blood), or perhaps with both, since tools for dealing with that common experience tend to be evolutionarily favorable.

Of course, this says nothing about what emotional reaction these various colors would produce. Part of Wilson's overall point in _Consilience_ is that there are rich areas of research at the intersection of harder sciences such as biology and softer ones like sociology, psychology and anthropology.

I also want to mention a particularly effective use of color (for me) as an aid to web navigation. I was browsing a domain with particularly dense internal links between various sections. Following a link in one area often took me to another area that I didn't expect, but knew I could access another way. (Going sideways into a sibling branch of the tree.) After a while, I noticed that each general area had a different color scheme. One was in shades of green, another in red, another in blue, so on. All of the color schemes used similar saturations for similar purposes, and in no case was the intensity of the color overwhelming. For instance, the main page text had a very subtly tinted background, while menu items were offset by a stronger hue. I found it extremely effective, and in fact I think I understood that I was moving from one area to another much faster than I would have otherwise, and was able to stay oriented much more easily. Other design elements, like fonts and screen layout, gave the domain a unified feel.

Dogruel, Eylul

This is overall a well thought out article that covers many aspects of the use of color and giving good advice. However, I do not feel the article emphasizes enough on what color schemes to use. For example, when you build an interface it is generally a good idea not to use triad primary or tetrad opponent and to keep your colors in a certain range for aesthetic reasons and preventing the user's eyes from tiring too soon.

Another caution is the list they give about color meaning is highly limited and directly tied to western world concepts. (To give an example, in Turkey, the color yellow can mean "sadness"). I personally think that different meanings of the colors often tie to different hues which makes it even more complicated. There are some research out there attempting to tie color to psychological effects (not to be confused with cultural connections with various concepts), to emotions. However the effect of hue especially on users seems to be weak.

-- Justin, I'm glad you gave a wonderful example of the importance of understanding color meaning in a cultural context. I was racking my brain for a good article that gave examples to this. I know their is a wonderful section on culture and the sociological use of color in Lester's Visual Communication: Images with Messages book

Dunne, Cody

I'm surprised that Stephen Few suggests moving text values from cells in a heatmap to a duplicate table in the spreadsheet. Although moving text reduces contrast for the text and allows patterns to be noticed more easily, we end up wasting half of our screen real estate. If we are looking at a lot of the cell values after noticing them on the heatmap, we are also spending a lot of time finding the associated cells in the data table and jumping to them. Furthermore, if the color scales aren't linear it may be difficult to see which colors are associated with which values. Oftentimes the color key is not very specific about the individual color mappings. Moreover, minor color differences at one end of a linear scale may in fact be a critical difference between a null/zero value and a small one, and without the extra text data in each cell those problems are harder to notice. Also, if you are analyzing data, you can try many various coloring techniques, and without the original data there it can be hard to determine whether each technique adequately illustrates the differences you're most interested in.

One alternative that helps preserve visible patterns in the heatmap is to use text small enough that it doesn't occupy much of the heatmap cell yet is large enough to still be readable. On large heatmaps this may not be possible, but on smaller ones (especially with small text values) much of the cell remains unobstructed and can still be used to find patterns.

Filippova, Darya

Fuchs, Adam Phillip

The article is an excellent set of suggestions for effective color use in a typical display, but I have a few questions regarding extending these guidelines to additional situations:

1. How do we use these points on static color usage to extrapolate criteria for motion-based visualization color usage? Afterimage in moving visuals can be seen here: http://www.ophtasurf.com/en/illusions/illusion_couleurinv2.gif.

2. There's also the consideration of peripheral vision. For applications like a video wall or cave, do we need to consider color differently? Humans are at least rumored to perceive colors poorly in peripheral vision, so perhaps the use of color as a warning must be augmented by brightness or motion in very large displays.

3. With the increasing popularity of LCDs, do the notes on hardware need updating? Are CRTs still better at color reproducion?

Guo, Huimin

The articles gave a comprehensive introduction to effective color design. I got many basic concepts about the color theory like color space, color hamony, color context and so on. The color usage is important in information visualization. The most interesting applications are ( from Infvis.net): nominal information coding("London Underground Map"), pseudocolor sequences("heatmap") and exploration of multidimensional discrete data.

The papers confirmed the notion "less is more" for good design. They conveyed an idea that using colors is not only for visually attractiveness. The more important thing is to find just the right colors ("There's nothing like the right choice of colors to make a Web page work. And nothing like the wrong colors to spoil your content." - color design for the web). A guideline in the paper I feel very important is "Get it right in black and white, then add color sparingly". There is an interesing tool for you to play with color. Pattern Maker allows you firstly select a pattern style and then customize the colors to your liking.

The articles talked a bit about colorblind people and common color associations. More can be addressed to color universal design as well as the meaning of colors. For example, there are differences between gender in preferences for colors and symbolism of colors can vary from culture to culture. http://www.sibagraphics.com/colour.php


Grimes, Justin

I thought this article was a wonderful piece with several good take home nuggets. I would like to have the article talk more about color blindness (which is often ignored) and culture and visual communication (how some cultures and society view color differently -- for example green means go, and red means stop is not a universal idea)

http://kuler.adobe.com/ -- Adobe Kuler is a neat little tool for catalog user generate color themes (might be some what useful)

For those with Mac, another two interesting applications are "Color Oracle" and "Sim Daltonism" which are both color blindness simulator. http://colororacle.cartography.ch/ http://michelf.com/projects/sim-daltonism/

I would second all of Tom's Tufte recommendations, as I am a huge fan but I am I'm glad to also see a reference to Stephen Few's work. Few writes a wonderful book called "Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten", that really dumbs down a lot of Tufte's work to the general business community, and easily explains the major points of Tufte in terms the average person could understand with lots of examples.

More fun is the Whitest Boy Alive - Golden Cage music video http://youtube.com/watch?v=bOP37A1EhEs which gives examples of color issues (and a few optical illusions) describe in this paper but to slightly rocking music. The action really starts at 1:44 minutes in....

Jong, Chang-Han The most informative thing in the two articles for me is the discussion of Spectral sensibility by MacDonald. It reminds me that color perception is a mechanism of information fusion. Therefore, there exist complex interference among different perceptions.

One of the topic that these two tutorial do not mention but I think worthy is discussion is forbidden use of certain color. For example, when I served in Taiwan Army, we can not use red-based poster because red is the color of China. Recently, two of the major political parties in my country use blue and green color as their base-color. Any color-tone biased to these color may cause unnecessary discussion. In Chinese convention, some color are only used for certain people such as purple is for emperor. For the above reasons, I suggested color users should consider color also as a culture issue and try not to be against the culture rules. Of course, sometimes, being against the rules might be one way to amplify the issue.

King, Kyle Jameson

The paper discusses grays as being used to emphasize other colors (i.e. the graph with colored nodes and gray edges). I think people undervalue the use of color to de-emphasize information. After reading the paper, I noticed that my mail client (OS X Mail), makes signatures in emails gray instead of black.

I initially wondered why Apple would go through the trouble of detecting signatures only make them a slightly lighter color. But then I realized that we are inundated with information, especially from email. Reducing emphasis on irrelevant information, even if the amount of irrelevant information is small, makes a huge difference. It's subtle, but it really keeps the attention on the content of the conversation while preserving the presence of my signature.

Knudsen, Kenneth B.

Lam, Michael

I found it vaguely amusing that Few breaks his own rule #3 by using grey-colored text. This caused the document to become unreadable when I printed it on my consumer-level printer at home. It's also amusing in the light of MacDonald's fifth "golden rule" that Table 2 in her paper has a distracting color gradient in the background.

Apparent hypocrisy aside, it seems to me that the fundamental take-home message is this: if color is not necessary, don't use it. Period. It doesn't matter if it's pretty or cute. If color is not helpful, it's distracting. Distractions in info visualizations or academic papers are a Bad Thing (tm). That sounds harsh, but I think I agree. If you want more aesthetics, there's this thing called "art" that you're invited to investigate.

Lee, Joonghoon

"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."

- from "The Elements of Style" by William Strunk Jr.

I felt that this tutorial delivers a similar message, in a similarly assertive, yet convincing manner. Just substitute words for colors and paragraphs for components.

Lieberman, Michael David

The article was well-written and presented in a straightforward manner with good examples.

These ideas can especially be applied to website design. Many websites are poorly designed (think MySpace) and could benefit from these color tips.

Here are a couple of links for website design ideas. Interestingly, many of the guidelines presented at these sites agree with or have a similar tone to those in Mr. Few's article. The overall theme is to use eye-catching features with restraint, as they might unnecessarily draw attention toward unimportant details. For example, they recommend to avoid flashing and moving text.

  • A list of Website Design Tips for choosing color and many other style elements.
  • The World's Worst Website demonstrates common problems with website design, including color schemes. Also good for a chuckle!

Lotze, Thomas Harvey I just thought I'd add a couple of links to other interesting color sites and discussions:

Mir Rashed, Fatemeh

Olea, Andreea Victoria

Rajkumar, Prahalad

Schulman, Aaron David

Straszheim, Troy Donald

Taheri, Sima

VanDaniker, Michael Robert

I agree with Cody. When I first read the section about using duplicate spreadsheets for the same data, I thought Stephen Few was taking things too far. There are a couple of applications I've worked on in the past that have required color coding for values, and the techniques used were much more succinct. This first example comes from a patient monitoring system. A nurse assigns each patient a triage level, 1 through 5, indicating the priority the patient should have. Hospitals associate colors with each level, and they wanted to be able to see both the numeric and color code for each patient. The solution was to put the text is a box shaded the appropriate color. The text was then shaded either white or black, whichever would stand out more against the background (Stephen Few's second rule). This way you can read all the values without maintaining a second table or straining your eyes.

Shaded cells.jpg

The second example comes from a project I've been working on at the CATT Lab. We wanted to plot speed readings against time, but the data set is particularly dense, so we rendered only the color. The user can then mouse-over any area on the plot to see the exact reading. In this case the users are more interested in seeing how speed changed with respect to time and location than in seeing exact values.

Speed plot.JPG

Wongsuphasawat, Krist

I feel that meaning of color should also be considered carefully to provide meaningful information which will not contradict with the information itself. Just using different color to distinguish between values may be not enough.

If you notice that ManyEyes have two color tones in their website, brown for normal page and blue for creating/editing page. I am not sure what is their intention of using blue. If it is to distinguish those pages so users can notice that they are doing something different and aware of it. In my opinion, I think that blue is a color in cold tone which give you a calm and peaceful feeling. I am not sure that it will meet their intention. Imagine if that page is in hot color tone, will it be better?

Another example is the coloring in rank-by-feature framework. If you use gradient from green to red to show bad(0) to good(100) value. Something inside my head told me that green is good and red is evil. It gave me a contradiction so I have a little bit strange feeling and confusion when looking at the ranking. Is green(0) good or bad? However, in each domain the meaning of color can be different. (Prof. Shneiderman told me that people in some fields consider red as good.) So we should choose the color carefully according to domain also.

Yahav, Inbal

Referring to the paper by MacDonald: I find the paper fascinating! Before reading a paper, I usually write down some points I expect to see in it. I was pleasantly surprised that the paper absolutely covered each and every thought and wonder I had regarding colors. The author provides recommendations based on technical perspective of colors, as well as targeted audience and culture.

Few thought I wanted to share:

  1. Different eye colors see different shades of colors! The difference is not very significant, but important to take into account when using scales of colors.
  2. On CRT screens, black is more green than white… (environmental-wise). For more information refer to http://enduse.lbl.gov/Info/LBNL-48581.pdf (2002). Recently google came up with a black-background search website, called Backle.

http://www.blackle.com/


Referring to Few’s and Edge’s paper: I agree with the discussion and recommendations about color selection in charts. Unfortunately, most of the papers require to present gray-scale charts. I would be interested to read more about the use of texture, shape and size to replace colors.