Earlier this week, one of our users pinged me about adding color coding to departments and categories. It’s such a great idea and seems like it should be so easy to do. After all, in Excel and Word you can just select a bunch of stuff and change the color! Unfortunately, in building something as multi-faceted as Propared, we run into a few challenges.
We chatted through a number of pros and cons we face adding color to our schedules in various ways. I wanted to share our thinking with you and talk about why color is so great but also why we’ve been as picky about using it as we have.
Why color is great.
1. You can say more with less.
When you glance at a traffic light and see that it is red, you don’t think about it. You just know to stop. Color has the potential to more quickly communicate complex information that is easier to digest than text. In order to understand the word “lighting” for example, I have to decode the letters and translate it into meaning. However, if I’ve already mentally associated anything that has to do with lighting with the color blue, then I’m able to skip over several brain processes and move straight into whatever I need to think about next.
2. It saves space.
I don’t have to write out “lighting” over and over again in a schedule or calendar. All I have to do is change the background.
Why color is challenging.
1. Associations with color must already be made.
In the above example, the key is that I’ve already associated “lighting” with the color blue. If I haven’t then my brain has to do even more work to first figure out what blue means.
Due to the size and scope of organizations who use Propared, we decided to allow for color-coding by project. That’s great if you’re looking at a season calendar trying to get the big picture, but for anyone looking at the schedule for a single project, it would be immensely helpful to see it color-coded by department or category or location. This is where we run into the issue. What would it to do our brains if blue meant both “Lighting” and “Hamlet” and “Rehearsal Hall A” on three different schedules?
2. Color-coding doesn’t work for everyone.
It probably goes without saying, but color only works if you’re able to discern colors. For anyone who is colorblind, the use of colors will make a schedule even more confusing. It will needlessly reduce contrast between text and background, plus the schedule assumes that you can discern meaning from the color.
That’s why in our schedules we display projects in various colors but also provide a place for the project short name or abbreviation.
3. Which color to use?
One of the things that made color coding projects easy is that there can only be one project associated with each event in the calendar or timeline. What do we do when an event involves multiple departments? If a Tech Day needs to be tagged with “lighting”, “sound”, and “video”, what do we do?
Do you have ideas about how we can make more use of color in Propared? We’d love to hear from you.