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The Secrets of Using Colors in Maps

“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way–things I had no words for.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

Colors speak, sometimes loudly and sometimes softly. What are you saying with your use (or misuse) of colors?

If you haven’t given map color choices thought, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to improve how you use maps to communicate with others. And whether you think about it or not, your choice of colors impacts how you and your map are perceived.

Don’t just take my word for it; here are some impressive results from color studies:

  • Color improves readership by 40 percent (Source: Business Papers in Color. Just a Shade Better, Modern Office Technology)
  • Color improves learning from 55 to 78 percent (Source: The Persuasive Properties of Color, Marketing Communications)
  • Color improves comprehension by 73 percent (Source: The Power of Color, Successful Meetings)
  • Research reveals people make a subconscious judgment about a person, environment, or product within 90 seconds of initial viewing and that between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on color alone. (Source: CCICOLOR – Institute for Color Research)
  • Color increases brand recognition by up to 80 percent (Source: University of Loyola, Maryland study)

And, from a Xerox study in 2003:

  • 92% – Believe color presents an image of impressive quality
  • 90% – Feel color can assist in attracting new customers
  • 90% – Believe customers remember presentations and documents better when color is used
  • 83% – Believe color makes them appear more successful
  • 81% – Think color gives them a competitive edge
  • 76% – Believe that the use of color makes their business appear larger to clients


Use Color to Your Advantage

Why settle with Mindjet’s default color templates when you can create your own branded map style? Create a map template for your company, or better, make your sales presentations using the colors of your prospect’s brand. It’s fast and easy to setup!

The above example was taken from our map gallery. I created it without much color consideration at all, but you can see it makes the map stand out nicely. What if you matched the colors of your next map with your client’s brand and logo colors? The use of their colors will immediately warm them up to your concept. Give it a try.

Here’s a great tool to get you started: I use a free application called Pixie which is a very handy color picker. Pixie lets you drag your cursor over any website or application and it tells you the HTML or RGB colors so you can use them in your maps!

Get Over Your Fear of Colors

Here are some sites to help you choose a palette and color combinations that work!

Colour Lovers: This site is a web 2.0 community of color fanatics! It’s a nice site for selecting colors that work well together.

Colourschemer: Colourschemer has tools for both Macs and Pcs and a growing base of user generated (and rated) palettes.

ColorBlender: This site lets you pick one color and it provides five complementary blended colors. For more advanced colorizing options, check out the color wizard.

Colr.org:  This is a personal favorite. Load up a website or select pictures (e.g. from Flickr) and Colr returns with, you guessed it, colors that you can use to makeover your maps!

IDEO Web Color Visualizer: One last tool that helps select good combinations of topic background & topic fill colors with font colors to ensure your text is readable.

If you’ve been living in a black and white world, like me, there’s actually a whole world of resources out there to help you learn more about color, its power of persuasion and ability to make you look and sound better! Here’s a site that has 101 color resources if you’re inclined to explore more!

Colorizing Your Mindjet Maps

Within your maps, it is possible to adjust colors to the following map components:

  • Background colors
  • Boundary fill colors
  • Call out fill colors
  • Topic fill colors
  • Topic lines
  • Relationship lines
  • Fonts

With MindManager 8, colors take on an extra significance. Apply filters to show or hide topics that have special font or topic fill colors. In other words, use colors to highlight in red items that may be at risk. These topics can be spotted quickly due to their color, when the filter is applied you can hide everything else in the map and only show items at risk.

Here are a couple of interesting posts on colors & mapping:


Colorful Considerations

  • Emphasis: Can you use color to emphasize parts of your map that you want to draw attention to?
  • Presentations: I’ve tried to present maps that look great on my screen, but horrible on projectors. If you’ll be presenting your map, test it out beforehand to make sure that the contrast and colors appear the way that you want them to appear.
  • Color Blindness: There are sites online that can show you how color blind people perceive your maps. Take a screenshot of a map and run it on Vischeck to make sure the topics you want to highlight are recognized by everyone!
  • Color and Contrast: When we create visuals that are intended to be read, offering the viewer enough contrast between the background (paper or screen) and the text is critical. For instance, yellow text on a white background is nearly impossible to read, ever more challenging when projected.
  • Overuse: Limit your color palette to 2 or 3 major colors with shade variations and accent colors for highlighting information (e.g. callouts or relationship lines). Remember, with color, less can be more!
  • Hidden Meanings: When should you use blue, or red? Colors carry hidden meanings

Wrap Up on Color

Remember, color can work for you or against you! Use it wisely to get attention, create the right mood, and enhance clarity and understanding.


How have you used colors to enhance your maps and presentations? Share your comments and tips below!


About the Author: Michael Deutch is Mindjet’s Chief Evangelist, content contributor for the Mindjet Blog and the Mindjet Connections newsletter. Get more from Michael on Twitter.

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