The Use Of Colors In Mobile Analytics Design by Kaan Turnali

The Use Of Colors In Mobile Analytics Design

When designing mobile analytics solutions, the use of colors plays an important role because colors are some of the easier components to manage and incorporate into our mobile assets. However, this ease of use often leads to misuse and, subsequently, ineffective design of our mobile solutions.

I often find that the oversight happens not because we lack the knowledge or technical capability, but because we make the wrong assumptions. I always argue: simple is beautiful if we want our design to resonate with our customers (users). And as I discussed in my last blog of this series, simplicity is instrumental in delivering a mobile solution with impact and utility.

Here are five ways you can keep things simple when it comes to the use of colors in mobile analytics design.

1. The fewer colors the better

Using more colors doesn’t generate more insight. Instead, it introduces noise and distraction. Fewer colors keep the page clean and allow the white space to effectively contrast with different data points to deliver the key findings.

Avoid using anything other than the default color for all things that don’t require any highlighting. Then ask these questions before applying any colors: Is it absolutely necessary to use a different color? If there is more than one area that needs to be underscored, will the use of different colors confuse or overwhelm the user? Can I differentiate through other means that will eliminate the use of colors?

2. Contrast makes a difference

This principle also applies to traditional analytics projects and graphic design in general. However, in mobile analytics we are faced with two additional challenges. First, the mobile real estate is smaller, which makes it more important that we use contrast to our advantage. One of the first areas this will come into play is the contrast we must achieve between the background and foreground colors.

The second piece involves elements on the page, such as charts and tables. Each of these objects should tell a story and highlight key findings. For example, if you use different colors to display actual vs. budget figures, a clear contrast makes it easier to see the differences they should highlight.

3. The less variety the better

The more colors you have in the legend to list, the harder it gets to discern the key findings. Often, a simple table may provide an easier-to-digest solution than a sexy chart with too many colors and data points would. Unlike a vacation resort with many amenities to entice customers to book a trip, we want our visualizations to employ fewer and distinct colors that can tell our story effectively and with fewer distractions.

4. Consistency is the key

This consistency is a key element that applies to not only colors but also to all facets of our design. It refers to the consistent use of colors throughout the entire mobile asset (reports, dashboard, etc.)

For example, if you decide to use a particular color to highlight specific parts of the report (subtotals, headers, comments) then stick to that definition and use it consistently in all parts of that report. Don’t use a different color for the same definition on one page and a different one on another page. The consistency eliminates confusion and accelerates the user’s learning curve.

5. Don’t reinvent the wheel

Stay with known or accepted definitions of colors and avoid reinventing the wheel or creating your own version. A simple example is the use of red. Red should get our attention for issues or problems that require immediate action for remedy, and it shouldn’t be used for the sake of drawing attention to items that are within acceptable limits with no action item or urgency.

Bottom line

The use of colors must go beyond the random strokes of a paint brush, and enhance your digital end product. In order to realize the true value of mobile, our choices must complement and not conflict with our overall design. If we’re going to leverage mobile analytics to drive growth and profitability, we must design for simplicity.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the Mobile Analytics Design Series!


This series was adopted from the Mobile BI Design Framework series, which was originally published on in 2013. It also appeared on the SAP Analytics blog.