Reading 8: Color

by Mike Gleicher on February 2, 2017

Color is another one of those big huge topics that you could read a ton about. The problem with color is there are all the different ways to come at it (psychology, art, design, physiology, electrical engineering (to create the displays), printing, …). Which is why we need to read a bunch of different things…

So, what i am going to give you is a long list of readings. There will be a minimum set of readings (some of which involve playing with things on the web), and you can read others if you find it interesting. (link to assignment)

Required for Monday, March 6: #1 (Ware Ch4), #2 (Munzner Ch10), #9 (Stone writeup)

Required for Wednesday, March 8: #7 (Brewer, although mainly it’s looking at the web tool as part of the assignment), #8 (Borland&Taylor paper), #13 parts 1&2 (first 2 parts of Smashing Magazine article)

Required, but no specific date: #12 (Tufte).

I guess that makes everythign else optional.

The Class:

  • Maureen Stone’s Course on Color would be fantastic. Her course notes are power-point slides that convey a lot of content, but really were meant to augment her presentation. So, while these are a great resource, they are probably not the only thing to look at: PDF for slide handouts, at screen resolution: Part 1 and Part 2. It’s an amazing survey of all the issues from perception, through the different ways to use color. I don’t make them required reading since it’s less clear how well they work by themselves.

The textbooks:

  1. Color – Chapter 4 of Visual Thinking for Design by Colin Ware. (link)
  2. Map Color and Other Chanels – Chapter 10 of Munzner (really 10-10.3, since 10.4 starts to talk about things other than color). It’s a good broad survey. (link)

Some other textbooks:

  1. Chapter 10, Principles of Color (link), from Thematic Cartography and Geographic Visualization, 2nd edition by Slocum et. al. No we don’t expect you to have this map-making textbook (although it is a great book). We’ve scanned the chapter and placed it into the course reader. This complements the above since it has a little more on the reproduction and representation issues. (optional – a bit redundant)
  2. Chapter 5, The Perception of Color (link), from Sensing and Perception (a psychology of perception book). This book is even better at discussing how we see color, but doesn’t get into the computational issues as well as the cartography book. It’s probably more of the perceptual science than you want.  (optional –good if you want more depth in the perception stuff, but more than we need for class)

The technical issues in representing color on a computer

  1. Representing Color as Three Numbers (CG&A tutorial, July 2005). Last time, students didn’t like this reading as much as I expected – too much linear algebra, and not enough insight. It’s one of those things that makes more sense after the lecture. (optional, but recommended if you’re curious about the computational issues)
  2. Charles Poynton has an excellent “FAQ on Color” – it’s a bit technical, and there is a lot of video specific stuff. But its the best place to learn about concepts like Color Temperature. It might help you understand why XYZ and xyY and LAB are all different. (optional, but recommended if other readings were making you ask very technical questions about color representations)

Things on choosing color maps:

  1. Cynthia Brewer’s work is a common standard for choosing color sets where you want a sequence of distinct colors (as opposed to continuous ramps). You should play with the ColorBrewer tool to see some of the set suggestions (and use it when you need a set of colors). You should read either a brief explanation or a paper. The paper is a 1990s web page that is showing its age – reading a paper is strongly recommended, although it’s not a great explanation). You will be required
  2. Borland and Taylor. Rainbow Color Map (still) Considered Harmful. IEEE CG&A, March 2007. (ieee page – the university has access, here’s a copy in the reader)
  3. Expert Color Choices for Presenting Data – by Maureen Stone.
  4. Colin Ware. Color Sequences for Univariate Maps: Theory, Experiments and Principles. IEEE CG&A, September 1988. (pdf here on Colin’s site – the official versions don’t have color!). While I am a big fan of Colin’s work, and I think this inspired a lot of later stuff, it is almost a little redundant with the above. (optional, since it is redundant with the required readings)
  5. Borkin MA, Gajos KZ, Peters A, et al. Evaluation of artery visualizations for heart disease diagnosis. IEEE transactions on visualization and computer graphics. 2011;17(12):2479-88. (official link, unofficial link) – we’ll come back to this paper later, but its an experimental evaluation that shows the pitfalls of ramp design (and other things). (optional – this will be a required reading later in the semester)

Some more design oriented thoughts:

  1. Color and Information – Chapter 5 of Envisioning Information by Tufte.
    (in protected reader: low res 4MB(link) , hi-res 53M(link)!)
  2. There was a 3 part web tutorial on color for web designers. I really like this since it gets at the artistic and aesthetic issues and how they communicate.

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