Choosing great colors for a graph is sometimes the most difficult part. And here is yet another thing you need to worry about ... sometimes colors represent different things in different cultures! In this blog post, I improve a graphic to help you get a grasp on those color-to-culture relationships.
If you're into data visualization, you've probably seen some of the "information is beautiful" examples. Their graphs are usually striking and attention-grabbing, but I often find it difficult to actually make sense of the information they are trying to represent. Below is an example of their color wheel that shows what various colors represent in different cultures. For each color chip, you have to determine which spoke number 1-84 it's on (to determine the word), and which ring A-J it's on (to determine the culture). Can you quickly determine the number and letter, and look them both up in the legend/key (which I show below their graph)? Probably not!
Here is a list of the main problems that jump out at me:
- Determining the number and letter, and then looking them up in a legend/key is time-consuming and error-prone.
- White text on a light gray background is difficult to read.
- It's difficult to determine the exact number and letter, since the color chips aren't always outlined by a border color.
- If you're interested in all the colors for a given culture, it's difficult to follow that culture around the circular wheel.
- One must have good color vision to discern the colors.
- There is no easy way to get the hex color code, to use in your other graphs.
I decided to create my own visualization, and try to improve their problem areas. Here is a list of improvements in my version, and a link to my SAS code.
- Rather than a wheel, I use a simple table.
- I use dark text on light background, which is easier to read.
- It is easy to determine the word & culture in the table (no legend/color-key lookup).
- It is easy to see all the colors for a word or culture, by following the row or column in the table.
- I break the table into 4 pieces, so the culture names are always easy to see.
- You can copy-n-paste the color boxes in my table, to get the hex code (below are just screen-captures ... click here to see the interactive HTML version of the table you can copy-n-paste from).
- If you're colorblind, you can use your mouse and highlight the table, to see the hex color codes in each cell (again, this is in the interactive HTML version).
Were there any 'surprises' in this data? Did you notice any colors that you might not want to use in your graphs for certain cultures/countries? Do you know of other colors that might be useful to add to this table? Feel free to share your thoughts in a comment!