How to Use Color in Data Visualizations | by Michal Szudejko | Oct, 2023

Harnessing color to enhance data comprehension

Michal Szudejko
Towards Data Science
Photo of langur monkeys: two adults in black and an infant in orange.
Langur monkeys. Source: Adobe Stock, Standard License.

The image above highlights François’s langurs, one of the most uncommon monkey species. Notably, their infants boast vibrant orange fur, which darkens to black as they mature. Prevailing theories suggest that this orange hue enables parents to monitor their young amidst the treetop surroundings¹ easily. This is vital for promptly identifying and reacting to threats, such as an imminent predator attack. Were an adult monkey able to verbalize, it might exclaim:

Grab the orange ones!

Kudos should be awarded here to Mother Nature. Thanks to the effective use of color, the existence of the smallest and most vulnerable can potentially be preserved.

I must admit that I hesitated to publish this post for a long time. The reason is that this topic is widely covered. Nonetheless, I still see a niche, especially in presenting practical nuances of using color.

I introduced already the functional use of color concept in one of my recent posts. Now, I want to share a few more tips in this area. I hope you will find them practical and unbiased. Let’s begin with some examples of ineffective color use.

1. Decoration before function

This problem emerges should we have no clear explanation of why color was applied in a specific visualization. Take this chart, for example. Can you clarify why such an abundance of colors was applied here?

Bar chart with a lot of colors, used for no particular reason.
Source: image by the author.

Sometimes, aesthetics is a viable explanation. But that’s a tricky one. We are entering a shady area of tastes, likes & dislikes. What is visually appealing to one may be unacceptable to others.

2. Lack of consistency & objectivity

Sometimes, we inconsistently use saturation or lightness levels in our visualizations. We do so by selecting colors from a palette (like in PowerPoint) without ensuring consistency…

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This post originally appeared on TechToday.