Data Visualization: Choosing Colors

Instructor: David Gloag

David has over 40 years of industry experience in software development and information technology and a bachelor of computer science

Color, or the lack of it, affects how we see and ultimately interpret the world. In this lesson, we'll take a look at data visualization and what makes color choice so important to it.

The Importance of Color

We seem to enjoy color. We marvel at the subtle shades that are incorporated into a sunset, we stop to look at the brightly colored posters for the latest blockbuster movies, and we appreciate the color variations in a rainbow. Color attracts us, spellbinds us, and makes us think. Why is that? Why do we gravitate to things with color in them? There are a few reasons, but they all boil down to information. Color brings an element to the proceedings that we wouldn't otherwise have. Areas like data visualization are aware of this and make use of this fact.

What is Data Visualization?

Data visualization is focused on what we see. Specifically, it looks to create visuals that convey information in a form that is easy to understand. Sometimes, these visuals are simple and composed of a series of lines drawn by hand. At other times, they are very complex, requiring hours of effort by powerful computers. You just have to look around to see examples: the current temperature page on your cell phone, the stock market graphs in your morning newspaper, and even the multi-colored webpages on your monitor. Data visualization makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the things around us.

What is Color?

Color is the combination of emitted or reflected light frequencies that reach our eyes. Most of us already know this. It is something we learn in school as kids. We use color to help us recognize things around us. As an example, if we see something green in a natural setting, it is likely a plant. Color can also tell us when things belong together or when something isn't right. For example, when something isn't green in a natural setting, it stands out, it strikes us as unusual. Visual cues, both positive and negative, help us to gain understanding.

Why is Color Choice Important in Data Visualization?

Choice of color in data visualization is important for similar reasons. Specifically:

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