How to choose the right color palette for your charts

25.08.2015 by Marisa Krystian

by Nigel Hawtin.

How this article came to be.

Nigel engaged with us in a conversation after we shared the blog post 4 Data Visualization Mistakes and How to Avoid Them on a dataviz forum. He had some constructive criticism for us, and we completely agreed with his points, so we asked him to write an article about how to correctly use color in data visualizations. While we do offer some preset color schemes, Infogr.am also lets you customize the chart’s colors so you are able to correctly communicate your message. We encourage you to play around with the chart settings to make the best visualization possible. So, without any further ado, here’s the article. Many thanks to Nigel for this contribution.

The difference a color palette can make is amazing, especially in the world of infographics. The right palette can tell the story, help organize the infographic, reinforce the topic, as well as providing clarity, insight, and context. The wrong palette can hide the point or convey the wrong message. Here are some tips to consider when choosing colors for your charts and infographics.

  1. Think about the reader

Firstly make sure that you are telling the story and that the reader’s eye easily takes in the information. As well using the correct chart type, the wrong color palette can be a big barrier to this.

There are a number of great websites out there will help you choose the right palette. The colors used on infogr.am are a good start but think about what you are showing and why, and use your own colors.

  1. Use black and gray to make important data stand out

Try starting off with a limited color scheme using just one color and tints of that color and don’t forget black and grey tints. Using grey can allow you to emphasize important data by only coloring the important data. Tints of a color are very useful if you are wanting to highlight important information, if so then make that a stronger shade or color.
 

    1. Avoid using rainbow colors

Color can also be used as a value. Look at any of the chloropleth and heat maps out there, but again be warned that rainbow color scales can be confusing. Again look at these and see if you can work out which color is high and which is low! If you want to check then take the color out and see if it still makes sense. Don’t forget those who suffer with some kind of color blindness, especially red/green.

  1. Think story-first

Always remember that the primary objective of any chart is to highlight and enhance comprehension and storytelling, providing clarity and insight to the data. Think of this at all times and you won’t go wrong! Here are the color trials on Infogr.am.

 

About the author

Nigel Hawtin is an information graphic designer with 30 years experience of producing information graphics for the scientist and non-scientist. He was the graphics editor at New Scientist for many years before starting his own visual communications company. He has advised many organisations on the best use of visual imagery and portraying data in clearly and concisely. He also provides workshops and presentations on thinking infographically, and best practices in visual communication.