The Importance of Color in Data Visualization and Dashboard Design
By Spencer E. Sobczak – Data Storyteller at Theia Inc.
Data visualization has reached mainstream recognition as an essential part of data storytelling thanks to business intelligence tools like Tableau, Qlik, and Power BI, and for good reason. Vision is one of the five senses we use to process information, making it a powerful tool when analyzing data. When information is presented visually our brains can quickly identify patterns and trends so we can better understand our business. Color is a key component of vision and can be used to communicate important information. Since the goal of data storytelling is to communicate a clear and complete picture of the business, it is important to consider our choice of color when designing data visualizations to avoid confusion and promote understanding.
Now, we use color to communicate every day, like when we are driving on the road and approach an intersection – red means stop, yellow means caution, green means go. By using color, drivers understand what actions they should take. The same concept should be applied to data visualization so that people understand what actions they should take when approaching business decisions.
It is important to apply the basic principles of color theory. Color can also be used to identify groups and values in data. Contrasting colors differentiate between groups and different shades of the same color can communicate the strength or weakness of a value. Complimentary colors such as blue and orange contrast well. Dark colors like purple are great for shading. Finally, there are colors that carry universal meaning. Green means growth. Red means decline. Universal meanings should always be considered in our dashboard design.
Data storytelling is both an art and a science. Our data visualizations are the most powerful when they find this balance. Color is an important bridge between these two disciplines, helping turn data into information and communicate a story.