The Secrets of Using Colors in Maps

By: Michael Deutch


“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

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