Once you have your data, the next big decision in your Power BI project is on how you want to visualize it. The most significant part of the decision process could be the most important; choosing your data visualization color palette. Being a data analyst, I have always struggled with the color design aspects of visualizations. This article will cover a couple of great starting places and resources for selecting an impactful color theme for your Power BI Solution. 

A color scheme is as simple as deciding which colors you want to use in your data visualization. There are many different colors to choose from when selecting one for your data visualization.  

For example, you might decide that you want your page to be bright and joyful because it’s full of happy people playing sports. The example I frequently find myself in is working for a customer, and they want their visualizations to be in the same color pallet or scheme as their branding.

Why is a Color Scheme important for your data visualization

The color scheme an individual chooses can be critical. How a person decides to combine colors can contribute immensely to how the data visualization is received and interpreted. A light, joyful color scheme can be perceived as more enjoyable than if the colors were darker and grayer.

A guide to the various types of colors and their meanings

As a color, blue is often associated with feelings of sadness, loneliness—the color of the night sky or a stormy sea. When combined with orange, the colors can be used to represent energy and life.

When adding red to a color, it can be identified as more energetic. A red sweater makes people feel relaxed and comfortable. Red is often associated with danger or boundaries. In the United States, red is used as the primary color for fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars. In the UK, fire engines are bright yellow. Adding red to information that you need to draw attention to is used quite frequently.

What is a color wheel, and how do you use it?

A color wheel is a circular diagram that displays the relationship between primary colors (red, blue, green), secondary colors (yellow, violet, orange), and tertiary colors (yellow-orange, purple). It can also display tints of each color.

Theoretically speaking, the primary function of a wheel is to show us the relationship between colors and provide a way to find colors that work well together. The most common type of color wheel has one hue in the middle circle with its three main variations around it.

Hue with variations of Saturation level showing various intensities.

Source File: CMYK-Werten.png – Wikimedia Commons

There are many different colors and combinations of colors to choose from. In the data visualization arena, there are overarching categories that group the different color schemes. These groupings make it easier to decide which colors work well together. These include:

Hue

Hue or monochromatic is the most straightforward type of color scheme that uses one hue as its base. The idea here is to use only one color for each spot in a visualization, each bar plotted on a scatter plot for example.

Using only one hue is very easy to create, but it may not be the most informative or interesting type with the more information you have.

Hue Color Wheel
Power BI Chart with a single Hue but variations of saturation

One variation of Hue is color saturation, the graph above, which relies on the intensity of a color. A high saturation color is a pure, bright, vivid tone with no pastel or grayish tints. A good example is if you put red paint in a bucket and then mix it with white paint, it would have lower saturation than if you only had the red color for the entire bucket, but your base hue is still red.

Complementary

Colors that are on completely opposites sides on the color wheel are considered to be complementary colors. An example of this is red and green, and notice that they are on opposite ends of the color wheel. Colors that are opposite are complementary. You can choose any two colors on the opposite end, and they are complementary together.

Complementary Color Wheel
Power BI Chart with Complementary Colors

Complementary colors are vibrant. You can achieve this by using them at full saturation or when one color is lighter, and the other is darker. This color scheme can be easy to be jarring if not managed well. Complementary colors are tricky to use in large doses but work well when highlighting a data point or a trend.

Split-Complementary

Split-Complementary color schemes involve using three colors on the color wheel. Take a hue, find its direct opposite color on the color wheel, and then use the two colors on either side. A great example is shown here, Purple, yellow-orange, and yellow-green.

Split Complementary Color Wheel
Power BI Chart with Split Complementary Colors

The idea here is that you use one color for most of your data visualization and then use other colors to complement the basic hues, creating a more lively appearance. For example, you may have a bar plot and then use one contrasting color to create a band around the bar.

Triadic Complementary

This is where you take the three hues that make up the triadic color scheme and then use their complementary colors for contrast. Triadic color schemes use three evenly spaced colors on the color wheel, which forms a triangle. This creates a more vibrant collection of colors that will help make important information stand out. 

Triadic Complementary Color Wheel
Power BI Chart with Triadic Complementary Colors

These shades of one color will form three subcategories of that color on the wheel, red, orange, yellow for example. They will be complementary colors; any two colors will be opposites on the color wheel. Triadic schemes are fantastic for creating a lot of contrast between multiple elements.

Analogous

Analogous is one of the more popular color schemes. It uses three hues adjacent to each other on the color wheel, such as red, orange, and yellow. These hues can then be used to create a cohesive data visualization with all the same qualities across all charts or graphs. 

Analogous Color Wheel
Power BI Chart with Analogous Colors

These are the most straightforward schemes to create and use and could be 3 to 5 colors. Remember to select enough contrasting colors to create an analogous color scheme. A great set of examples can be found What is an Analogous Color Scheme, and Why are Designers so Obsessed with great explanation, “one dominant color (usually a primary or secondary color), then a supporting color (a secondary or tertiary color), and a third color that is either a mix of the two first colors or an accent color that pops.”

Split-Analogous

Split-Analogous schemes are like a split-complementary color scheme, but instead of using one primary hue, you’re using two hues adjacent to each other on the color wheel. In essence, you skip the colors in between an analogous color scheme.

Split-Analogous Color Wheel
Power BI Chart with Split-Analogous Colors

These can be used in addition to the basic components. You could have one bar chart and then use split-analogous colors for the lines that connect it to other elements. There is a great reference and several examples in the article September Color Study – Split Analogous Colors.

Tetradic

A Tetradic color scheme is similar to a triadic scheme, except there are four hues rather than three (i.e., you’re using four primary colors on the color wheel). These color schemes are generally meant for critical information and applications where the colors are the most integral aspect of the data visualization. This scheme forms a square on the color wheel.  

Tetradic Color Wheel
Power BI Chart with Tetradic Colors

Wrap-Up

As you can see from the examples, you can choose your own combinations, but it is always good to start with colors that work well together. Getting to know some basic color theory and finding a good color wheel is a great starting point.

References: 

Color Harmonies: complementary, analogous, triadic color – Great reference, Please visit as this was a great source for me. I liked the way they used an open circle in their diagram that lets the color show through in their diagrams. Basic techniques for combining colors, shows the basic color chords based on the color wheel.

Color Calculator – Use the free Color Calculator to explore creative color options for your design project.

Source File: CMYK-Werten.png – Wikimedia Commons – Used as example of a color wheel with hue.

File:BYR color wheel.svg – Wikimedia Commons – Used as abase svg file for colors.

What is an Analogous Color Scheme? Analogous Color Scheme

Published by Steve Young

Cloud Solution Architect at @Microsoft specializing Data & AI . Posts = my views, not the views of my employer View more posts

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