When Colours Become Hieroglyphics

Posted By Debbie on January 8, 2015

One thing I see from time to time in designs is what I perceive as an over-use of colour. It’s generally not great UX to try to message with colour alone. The best practice is often to have iconography as well as that may be more memorable and meaningful to people than just colour.

I was looking for online event directories where I could possibly promote my full day Axure workshop, and one of the search results was the directory for Sched.org. I starting poking around. I realised that it was just for people using sched.org, and I didn’t need what they did. They appear to give you an event website that helps you show tracks, rooms, or other ways of breaking down your event’s full agenda.

But then I was hypnotised but what I thought was some tough UX. Here is a screen shot of the way they show an event’s schedule. Click to enlarge.

ScreenHunter_77 24-Nov-14 12.21

Funny enough, it’s a UX event! But look at those colours. Once you scroll down, will you remember slightly yellow from more yellow? Then I wondered if the legend stays pinned in the right column as you scroll. No. That goes away. You need to remember what meant what. So unless you really just want Content Strategy sessions, and you scroll the page thinking to yourself, “Blue blue blue, gotta find the ones in blue,” this may not be so helpful.

It’s not obvious, but I CAN click Content Strategy in the legend, and it’ll create a filter. The filter is shown above the agenda and the legend’s visuals stay the same (hmmmmm). Click to enlarge.

ScreenHunter_83 24-Nov-14 13.53

But Wait, It Gets Harder.

I found another conference on the Sched website. There are a lot more categories here and more than 5 shades of blue and blue-green that you need to visually and mentally separate. Click to enlarge.

ScreenHunter_79 24-Nov-14 12.24

Don’t Let Your Colours Be Hieroglyphics!

Colours SHOULD be helpful elements of an interface. Something that creates or enhances branding. Something that helps set a mood.

Colours should NOT feel like a language people have to try to understand, remember, or parse. If you need a legend, you’ve probably made it too complicated. If you need more than one shade of any particular colour, you’ve probably made it too complicated.

If you wouldn’t do it with icons, don’t do it with colour.

If you wouldn’t expect people to make sense of and remember 13 icons, one for each track or workshop type, then don’t use colour that way.