Assume that I have a heat map UI showing company stocks. The current pattern that users have been exposed to for the past 2 years is dark green being low value and light green being high value. To me, this seemed a bit counterintuitive since a darker shade of a color means "more" and lighter shade of a color means "less." I tested a pattern with the rules swapped (dark green as high value and light green as low) with some users, and they didn't even notice the color swap. In fact, they were able to describe the rules of the color pattern.

Are there any precedents of a website or app swapping a pattern or changing a designated rule if the learned legacy pattern is tested as less intuitive? Or is this a UX no-no?

1 Answer 1


Don't cross the streams!

Changing color schemes is different from outright reversal of the palette.

For heat maps, color carries the principal information so reversing the color axis isn't a great idea unless you don't mind putting up with some customer confusion.

If you want to migrate to a dark-light strategy you may want to evolve customers through an interim color for a while before switching, or if you really want to do a switch, add callouts to users the first time they land on the new site, and explain that most users found the new colors more legible:

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If you're thinking of changing not because the palette tests better but because you think it looks better, I would think twice about fixing what isn't broken.

If you are able to choose a different color palette, there are a lot of resources to help you choose a good heat map palette. For example, 2-color or 'diverging' palettes can be easier to read and more friendly to the color blind. Here's a decent place to start if you want to reconsider the palette:


  • I'm proposing the change because past data showed that many users struggled to understand the current color pattern, and I would like to propose a different color pattern that I find more intuitive.
    – Yeezy
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 19:24
  • Are you committed to the green palette? If you can use a different color, learning a new palette is easier for users than reversing an existing palette
    – tohster
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 19:25
  • If you need to make a change... this needs to be done consistently across the board. And honestly, as you've seen from your testers. Something as little as color palette on heat maps isn't something a typical user notices. We as designer are way more sensitive to these things than our users ever would. My only caveat would be to look at how intensity is used elsewhere in the system. If there isn't a specific design language established to say X color means something, then you're pretty safe if you back it with testing.
    – nightning
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 19:37
  • I think the coloring is fine, but it's the usage of the coloring. It seems like a good number of people find that the darker green communicates as "more" and lighter green communicates as "less." Are there any apps out there that changed a pattern after establishing it for a while?
    – Yeezy
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 19:39
  • @yeezy apps change palettes all the time. You're considering reversing an informational palette. There is a big difference. I've given some considerations which may be helpful to making an educated decision which only you can make.
    – tohster
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 19:41

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