Mar 232012

So, as anyone who has either taken a Tableau class with me or has read my blog posts knows, I go ballistic when I see anyone use a red/green divergent color palette.

So, it’s great to see people using Tableau’s color-blind palette, but we need to get something straight:

Dark Blue == Good, Lots

Dark Orange == Bad, Few

I’m seeing examples where people are applying the colors in  reverse, and, well, that’s just wrong (in my not-so-humble opinion).  Think about it: when was the last time you saw a danger sign flash in royal blue vs. red or orange?

While I’m on the soap box, I want to sing the praises of the simple highlight table.  Consider this:

I love this type of visualization because it’s so easy to see which combinations of sub-product / region are performing well and which are doing poorly.  In other words this passes the “can I grok it from the back of the conference room” test.


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 Posted by on March 23, 2012 1) General Discussions, Blog  Add comments

  8 Responses to “Blue is Good, Orange is Bad”

Comments (8)
  1. The fact that some (many?) people are getting it wrong, suggests that blue = good, orange = bad, is not as intuitive as red-green.
    I can’t remember the last time I saw anything indicating danger (bad) be in any colour other than red, though I’d be happy for you to show me where I can find this. 
    In fact, orange to me suggests amber traffic lights – neither good nor bad. It also implies warmth, whereas blue implies coldness (bad, for me at least!)
    I completely understand your position, but until the majority of my users intuitively understand blue and orange as you define them, I would rather just apologize to the few color-blind people.

  2. I have to agree with Michael.

    Blue/Orange is not intuitive because there are not a generally accepted convention. If you have to add a legent you might as well pick any colour scheme you want – the trafic light colours works because they are a well understood metaphor god/bad.
    About the color blind – is it only red/green that causes problems or could it also be blue/orange og any other color pair? Might it be, that the reason we know that some people is red/green color blind that it is the only combination tested because it is the conventional colors?

    • Peter,
      There are many forms of color-blindness, but red/green is by far the most common. If you want more information on the subject, please see

      As for blue / orange (not neutral amber) not being intuitive, perhaps there is a cultural thing at play here as red and dark orange are used all the time as warning colors, at least in the US. And in the hundreds of times I’ve demoed that type of highlight able and asked people from far away to tell me which things are bad and which are good, nobody has had a problem identifying which is which (try the same thing in a group of with 100 men and try a red and green highlight table.)

      Yes, we’ve seen green used to indicate go / stock market increase and red for stop / stock market loss for a long time now, but does that mean we have to perpetuate it? By using this we are in fact asking a LOT of people (7% of the male populated) to make a special affordance simply because of convention.

      It *is* possible to rid ourselves of poorly designed conventions. For example, both Canada and the UK managed to ween themselves from the metric system and that’s a much bigger deal then introducing a different divergent color palette.

      My personal epiphany came when I first visited this web site and used the color blind simulator:

      So, if you don’t like blue / orange that’s fine (just please don’t use red and green). But if you *do* use blue and orange I propose we make apply the following approach:

      Blue becomes the new green;
      Orange becomes the new red.


  3. Steve –
    Thanks for your follow-ups. Your anecdotal evidence is certainly persuasive, although as I hope was clear in my first reply, I certainly do not disagree with your efforts to go with what is ‘right’, rather than what is the status quo.
    In the past, I have built Tableau workbooks in orange-blue, and often wondered why not use red-blue? 
    Red has universally negative connotations – more obviously so than orange, I should imagine. From red, blue can be more easily implied to be ‘good’ on an intuitive level.
    Any thoughts?

  4. Michael,

    There’s a lot of good articles about blue / orange as contrasting colors and the anchors of the color-blind palette. Just do a search on either “opposite colors” or “complementary colors”.

    As for using blue / red, my reluctance is that the media has co-opted this combination to describe democrats and republicans.

    I think I need to perform a controlled experiment on the color combinations. I have a good idea how to set it up.


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