There's a list of items, some of them require attention. I'm thinking about using the color red.

It used to be used for errors, so red was an unpleasant color. Today we have red notifications on iOS and Facebook, where users love to see them (at least on Facebook).

How do you think it feels on a task list?

  • What exactly is meant by 'require attention'? Most task managers I know show items in red if its due or overdue. May 23 '12 at 20:46
  • Any screenshots to see how it looks?
    – Ades
    May 24 '12 at 4:49
  • I mean that some of the items are fine, and the user doesn't need to do anything with them, while the others are tasks.
    – ΞΫΛL
    May 24 '12 at 8:43

If you're attempting to get a non-colorblind user's attention, yellow is actually the most attention grabbing color.

Yellow is less associated with anger and frustration (although it is still sometimes associated with those feelings), it is generally shown to be a more positive color.

Red does have more of an association with errors, and as @user12999 mentioned, things that are overdue (you can kind of lump this under the same category of 'error'). You'll find that yellow is more often associated with warnings than errors.

Today we have red notifications on iOS and Facebook, where users love to see them (at least on Facebook).

When considering Facebook and iOS's notification icons my mind goes immediately to colors that contrast well with red. Blue is one of red's triads and thus they contrast well -- therefore considering Facebook is mostly blue, red pops out the best. On iOS my opinion is that the badge was originally associated with the primarily green phone and text message icons and green is red's complement. As well, you'll find that the other original primary user of the notification badge was the mail app which is primarily blue.

In summary, if you're just trying to draw attention to an item, I think yellow is your best bet unless the item is overdue or an error then you should go with red. I would also urge to consider @Bevan's excellent point on not only grabbing attention by color, but by other methods of emphasis he has noted as well.

  • 1
    Yellow is the most attention grabbing color IN VERY SPECIFIC CIRCUMSTANCES. Your link provides the proof. The text is rubbish, but do you see how the purple actually jumps off the page much more than yellow does? Because it's not about the color, it's about the relation between the colors. May 24 '12 at 7:10
  • @IgorAsselbergs I know that the link I provided is not the strongest evidence (hard to get a psych study without paying) and I definitely think that the full color scheme plays an exceptionally large role in how much text as you say pops. What I was simply pointing out is that all things equal, yellow does actually stand out the most. Given a set of schemes where you've made each color as prominent as possible with whatever contrast necessary, yellow will be the most attention grabbing when styled appropriately. This is not to mention of course that yellow is a convention for warning.
    – GotDibbs
    May 24 '12 at 15:38

Never differentiate items in a list solely on the basis of colour - you'll be hiding that functionality from that non-insignificant proportion of your audience with some form of colour vision impairment.

While there are some people who see the world in a purely mono-chromatic way, there are a great deal more who have trouble perceiving certain colours.

For example, I have a lower than usual sensitivity to red - and I've passed it on to my son. Point to a red flower, and we can tell you it's red, no problem. Point to a word written in red, surrounded by other text written in black, and we can't see any difference.

Best approach that I've seen - and I've seen it in a lot of places - is to use a combination of factors.

For example, these would all work:

  • Red + Bold text
  • Red text + A glyph/icon at one end of the line that shows status
  • Bold text + Red background

More information: Wikipedia article on Colour blindness

  • 1
    Color blindness is a misleading term. Only the blind are color blind. Everyone else sees colors, though sensitivity may vary. There are a few people in the world who perceive mono-chromatic: only black, white and grey. If you do, rejoice, because it is so rare that you can make a lot of money as a test person. This means that you sure can differentiate items in a list solely on the on the basis of color, so long as you also include lightness contrasts in the equation. May 24 '12 at 7:04
  • I'm not planning on using only a color. I have few lists, and one of them is a list of tasks, so I want to give each list a color.
    – ΞΫΛL
    May 24 '12 at 8:46

If, generally, there are many noticications in red, it thus creates a pattern which can be used. After all, meaning gets assigned to a color, not the other way round. That said, if you want to grab attention, don't focus on the color, focus on the contrast instead. For instance: yellow jumps off a black page, but looks quite dim on a white page. If you want to take color blindness into account, make sure that your contrasts have sufficient difference in lightness. It's as simple as that…

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