The other day, a business analyst showed me some process flows which used a black font for text and dark orange and dark blue for the fill colors. The data looked something like this: lovely in design; impossible to read.
My immediate reaction was to think about the colors—I found them somewhat painful to look at and was having trouble processing the information on the flows. This is not the reaction you want when providing information—you want people focused on the information. Knowing beauty is in the eye of the beholder, was this just a Joyce quirk, or a real issue?
I did a quick search on background colors and readability. Most of the information I found was for print or websites, but I’m comfortable generalizing it to process flows. I found the same information over and over—for readability high contrast is important, black on white is best.
I was relieved to know I wasn’t alone when I found “…poor contrast will force the user to squint and make reading the body text almost painful, not to mention a lot slower.” in Matt Cronin’s 10 Principles For Readable Web Typography.
Uh oh–does this mean we have to use boring old black and white all the time? Seilevel’s RML® templates use a light blue fill—did we blow it? No, in Color and Type: Making it Work for Your Project the author notes “…’white’ is more generally used to describe any light-colored paper [or background].”
So, when you’re creating that beautiful color combination for your diagrams, remember the old adage that “pretty is as pretty does”. And, if pretty gets in the way of understanding the information, pretty isn’t so pretty after all.