New Color Scale Makes Data Visualizations Easier for Colorblind People to Read

Mars topography visualized on a rainbow scale
Mars topography visualized on a rainbow scale
NASA/JPL/USGS

When designers want to visualize changes in data, like in a heat map or a topographical survey, they often reach for the rainbow. The rainbow color scale is almost the default for visualizing scientific and engineering data. And yet, putting all the colors of the rainbow into a single image isn’t a good idea. For one thing, as Scientific American reports, it makes visualizations impossible to read if you’re colorblind. And even if you can pick out every color in the image, that doesn’t mean you understand what going from red to violet means.

Now, researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington have developed an alternative to the rainbow color scale that will make data visualization and other images easier to decipher for people with color-vision deficiency and the general public. Using a mathematical model of how the brain perceives differences in color, they created a new color scale they call cividis, which shows data exclusively in shades of blue and yellow—the colors that someone with colorblindness would see while looking at a rainbow color scale.

A nanoscale image overlaid with four different color scales
The new blue-yellow color scale is labelled CVD-Jet
Nuñez et. al, PLOS ONE (2018)

They took traditional rainbow color maps and ran them through software that converted them to look closer to the blue-yellow scale that reflects what someone with the most common form of colorblindness sees. Then, the software adjusted the color and brightness of that image to look more consistent with how people interpret data. One of the problems with the rainbow scale is that people automatically see the brightest color as a peak, sometimes leading them to incorrect conclusions. Even though yellow is one of the middle colors in Roy G. Biv, it often jumps out at people as the most extreme color on the map, though red is the highest on the scale. In this color scale, the color does get brighter as the values go up, so you don't have to work as hard to interpret it.

In general, most people don’t intuitively know what order the colors of the rainbow should appear in at all. Red and violet are at opposite ends of the Roy G. Biv scale, but that’s not visually apparent. Narrowing the range down to two colors makes it easier for readers to pinpoint where on the scale a specific point is.

The two-color scale also makes changes in data look more gradual, whereas with a rainbow of colors, the difference between each color looks very stark. The ability to show a gradual progression can reflect more nuance.

It’s not just a matter of aesthetics. An eye-catching, complex rainbow visualization can lead scientists to misinterpret their own data, while an easier-to-read scale makes it easier for them to pick out patterns. In one 2011 study cited by Scientific American [PDF], scientists at Harvard found that doctors were faster and better at spotting signs of heart disease while looking at 2D images of arteries on a color scale that just used black and red than while looking at a 3D rainbow visualization.

Cividis has already been added to the color-scale libraries of some image-processing software, and its creators hope to convince more scientists and designers to use it in the future.

[h/t Scientific American]

The Smart Reason IKEA Mugs Come With a Chip on the Bottom

This IKEA mug has a low-key design element that might make your day a little easier.
This IKEA mug has a low-key design element that might make your day a little easier.
IKEA

IKEA might be best known for its array of ready-to-assemble furniture like beds, bookshelves, and desks, as well as the wafting scent of Swedish meatballs. But the popular household goods franchise also sells a steady number of coffee mugs. Most are unremarkable, including the spectacularly named VARDAGEN, and therefore never go out of style. But the VARDAGEN does have one odd feature. The 3.25-inch off-white stoneware mug comes with a chip on the bottom. Why?

According to Reader’s Digest, the chip has an official IKEA term: It’s called a drainage gate, and it has a very specific purpose.

The drainage gate was implemented so water wouldn’t collect on the bottom of the mug in a dishwasher. Since mugs are loaded upside-down, water has a tendency to pool on the bottom, which could conceivably result in a slightly splashy mess when unloading.

Because the “chip” is so smooth and uniform, it’s unlikely too many people mistake it for a damaged product. You can also find the drainage gate in the VARDAGEN teacup and saucer set.

[h/t Reader’s Digest]

Can You Guess the Brand Based on Just a Piece of Its Logo?

Would you be able to recognize these logos if they had been tampered with?
Would you be able to recognize these logos if they had been tampered with?
plus49/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images

As any good marketing analyst will tell you, a well-designed logo can easily be the difference between an internationally recognized company and one that quickly fades into obscurity. And now, since apps aren’t disappearing anytime soon, it’s especially important for a brand to be immediately identifiable by a tiny, often wordless icon.

No matter how small, a logo can still say a lot about what it stands for. An organization that wants to promote sustainability and environmental awareness, for example, is much more likely to design a green logo than a red one. And Target’s logo, which looks like a literal target, hits the mark when it comes to helping customers remember what website they’re shopping on. Other companies, like Baskin-Robbins, are slightly more subtle—the ice cream franchise’s BR logo contains the number 31, representing how many flavors you can choose from.

While you might effortlessly recognize a Target or Baskin-Robbins logo on a highway sign or in a social media advertisement, would you be able to do the same if part of that logo was missing or distorted? That’s exactly what UK-based loan provider Transmit Startups has done to eight logos below—words have been deleted, some colors have been changed, and certain design elements have been blurred or obscured. Try your hand at identifying which brand each one belongs to, and then scroll down to reveal the answers.

Guess the Brand

1.

distorted logo
Transmit Startups

2.

distorted logo
Transmit Startups

3.

distorted logo
Transmit Startups

4.

distorted logo
Transmit Startups

5.

distorted logo
Transmit Startups

6.

distorted logo
Transmit Startups

7.

distorted logo
Transmit Startups

8.

distorted logo
Transmit Startups

Check Your Answers

1. Heinz

heinz logo
Transmit Startups

2. HSBC

hsbc logo
Transmit Startups

3. Instagram

instagram logo
Transmit Startups

4. Netflix

netflix logo
Transmit Startups

5. Tesco

tesco logo
Transmit Startups

6. Marks & Spencer

marks & spencer logo
Transmit Startups

7. Disney

disney logo
Transmit Startups

8. Amazon

amazon logo
Transmit Startups

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