Do no harm

Apr 1st, 2010 | Posted by Stone

Edward Tufte, in his classic book Envisioning Information, begins his chapter on color with the admonition: “Above all, do not harm.” Color used well can enhance and beautify, but color used poorly can be worse than no color at all.

For example, if text is displayed on a background that varies in lightness or color (like all too many PowerPoint templates suggest) its prominence and legibility will shift with its placement. Here’s an extreme example, where both the text and the background colors are changing. Some words pop out, some are nearly unreadable. Looking at the luminance view we can see why words are disappearing; insufficient luminance contrast.

Changing the text to yellow makes it all readable, but the color shifts with the background. This is the result of simultaneous contrast; the color of the background changes the color of the foreground.

Changing the text to white eliminates this problem, but there is still contrast variation. And, the colorful background is commanding more attention than the text. Which is more important?

Best to keep the colors simple so your message speaks clearly. When in doubt, stick to neutral colors, or even just black and white.

  1. tchibo gutschein
    Aug 7th, 2010 at 19:52
    Reply | Quote | #1

    nice!