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I'm trying to help visualize a portfolio of projects.

They start off in the first state with some basic details, then they're reviewed, fully defined, and finally, work is begun.

Right now, the color scale for the states is as follows:

Current Scale of Colors as the project progresses from idea to started

The bottom is the start of a project, and all projects in progress are on the top. The linear flow is top to bottom.

I have been considering a few questions:

  • What should be the final color: blue, green, something else?
  • Should the scale be varying states of one color, progressively getting brighter?
  • Should the bottom color be red, progressing through the ROYGBIV scale?

Thanks for your thoughts!


After some discussion, I drafted a few more concepts:

This one is with a single hue scale, and showing the state of inactive projects:

With a single color scale, and showing the state of inactive projects.

This one with a single hue scale, showing the state of inactive projects, and having a side-by-side display of progress.

With a single color scale, and showing a side-by-side display of progress.

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My suggestion is not to do this. Hue doesn't have an inherent order (ROYGBIV is surprisingly non-intuitive especially when you have to compare across the rainbow). "Is teal before or after forest green?"

And individual colors communicate entirely the wrong meaning: e.g., when the project is 'red' does that mean it's behind? or in trouble? or blocked?

Not to mention that color associations don't cross cultural boundaries well.

If you feel you must use color, use it as a reinforcement to some other marker. For example, a section of a circle slowly filling up to completion, with a colored background; or a 'progress bar', likewise. In these cases, I would use a single hue getting darker or brighter, or possibly more saturated, over time. But the symbol would really be what told people the state.

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I'm leaning more towards saturation of a single hue, rather than multiple colors for the concept above. I agree Alex. The challenge that I may not have communicated well in the original question is to display what percent of projects are in what state. With that said, a single bar may not be perfect, but multiple bars with the filled in circle as you describe could be better. – ATSiem Sep 14 '12 at 17:32
++ to @Alex's answer. Colour alone is not enough of a cue for all the reasons mentioned. Hue won't work well either. You're a designer. You're good at spotting hue differences. Most people are not. – adrianh Sep 15 '12 at 11:06

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