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January 12, 2015

What's a good color scheme for showing complex data?

That's an issue we often face since we frequently feature charts produced using Microsoft Excel incorporating multiple series of data, where visually telling one data series from another can present quite a challenge. A challenge that can become even greater if the charts that use Microsoft's default color palette are viewed on an LCD screen, or if the viewer has some degree of colorblindness, or if the charts are printed out and then potentially again if the printed charts are photocopied.

Not long ago, one of our readers alerted us to ColorBrewer2, an online application for selecting color palettes that might be used for producing maps on the web, which identifies the palettes that are most viewer friendly.

We're still playing around with the application, but we think we've narrowed down a couple of color palettes upon which we might standardize our presentation of complex data, which complement the color palette we use on our site. We'd like your opinion, so we'll test drive both of them today with an updated version of one of our most complex charts.

The first chart presents our "Purple and Orange" color scheme, which promises to be visually distinguishable for colorblind readers, even on an LCD screen, and also when printed out and subsequently photocopied:


The second chart shows the same data, but using a "Purple and Green" color scheme, which is supposed to have all the advantages of the "Purple and Orange" scheme, but which is not photocopy friendly.


Finally, here's the survey:

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

We'll follow up with the results after we've collected enough responses.


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