The use of color in big data visualization

Let’s set the scene: A conference room full of executives are awaiting a presentation you put together on quarterly shipping volume from regional distribution centers over the course of the last decade. You take a deep breath and fire up the projector to begin the presentation. What do they see?

Bar charts, pie charts, line graphs and scatter plots; Six, seven and eight-figure numbers with decimals rounded to the umpteenth value; Confusing color schemes that lack consistency; Tiny text squeezed into margins so small you would need a microscope to read them.

Yikes – Not the most ideal format for a presentation.

In the world of big data visualization, these design tactics are all too common and often leave the audience’s head spinning with an inability to comprehend what they were just shown.

With the seemingly limitless figures involved in big data sets, presenting that valuable information in an aesthetically pleasing way that the audience understands is key. The strategic use of color is an effective way for an audience to comprehend intimidating amounts of information without getting caught up in a hodgepodge of charts.

For starters, designers need to focus on the semantics of the colors they want to work with to accurately represent the data. In other words, it’s all about word-color association. Let’s go back to the conference room situation from earlier. If shipping volume is up, using colors like green or blue that are associated with positive conditions makes the most sense. The same goes for using red or orange for a negative condition if shipping volume is down.  Likewise, if you wanted to depict performance of shipping volume over time within a single chart, employing the use of shades that lighten or darken to reflect performance from one end of the spectrum to the other gives the audience a quick understanding of the data’s meaning.

Another good aspect to keep in mind for big data visualization is a color’s chroma, or the intensity of the color in relation to the scale in which it is used within the graphic. For example, a color will look much brighter as the largest piece of a pie chart than it would as a single dot on a line graph. The smaller a color appears, the brighter it needs to be to be made distinct, and vice versa.

Finally, it’s always a best practice to distinguish colors so that they don’t offset themselves. One great tool to help with this is a color space. Take green and yellow as an example. The two colors neighbor each other in color space, and as a result, are perceptually close when used in design.  It’s best to use colors that contrast each other, like how red contrasts with blue, to best clarify all the data. Don’t forget to incorporate whitespace; it allows your design to breathe, letting the viewer’s eye rest so they can pay attention to what it is you are saying and presenting on your slides.

Employing these strategies will help your audience easily absorb the value of big data and bring a more seamless look into your next data visualization project.

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A lesson in social customer service


Social media has created many opportunities for both small businesses and major brands to connect with their target audiences in new and exciting ways. Whether focusing on user-generated content or interactive social strategies, each social media platform offers brands numerous opportunities to have their messages resonate in the digital realm.

In the same way that companies utilize social media to reach their audiences, consumers can also make their voices heard when it comes to their brand experience. If customers have a wonderful experience using a certain product or visiting a business, they often share those opinions by posting on their social channels or leaving a review on the company’s digital channels.

The same can be said for customer questions or complaints, however. In these instances, social media-savvy businesses will understand that some extra monitoring will be required to ensure customer needs are addressed.

It’s equally as important to keep in mind the speed at which you respond when a customer reaches out via social media. An unanswered message or a reply sent days or weeks later can leave a poor impression. If that’s not incentive enough to respond quickly, Facebook now publicly displays the average time it takes a business to respond to private messages.


If a company page is actively responding to messages – defined as 90 percent response rate sent within 15 minutes — Facebook will assign a “Very responsive to messages” badge to display on the business page.


Elon Musk, the well-known serial entrepreneur and CEO of electric car manufacturer Tesla, provides a textbook example of effective social customer service:

In December 2016, a Tesla customer located in San Mateo, California tweeted at Elon Musk with a complaint that other local Tesla drivers were using the Supercharger stations – free charging stations for Tesla model cars – more as parking spots than as a source to quickly charge their batteries.

Elon Musks responds to a Tesla owner's complaint

A single tweet exposed an issue other drivers had experienced around the country and, less than a week later, Tesla released a new policy for all Supercharging stations that imposed a fee for every minute a car was left at the station after it had been fully charged.

Musk actively engaging with his Twitter account and acknowledging a customer complaint – quickly addressing it by creating a new company policy – shows the importance of social customer service to his brand.

Although Musk fielded the complaint through his personal Twitter account, his approach shows that staying connected to your customers and turning their problems into solutions should be a priority. No matter your industry, this responsiveness will leave a positive impression on a customer. Social media is one of the fastest-growing ways to reach your customers, and if used correctly, social customer service can create value for a business by serving as a tool to detect previously unseen issues and improve overall brand experience.



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