Jon Aquino's Mental Garden

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Monday, April 18, 2005

Using Colour To Highlight Your Key Points

I sometimes use red text to help the reader quickly find the salient points in my blog posts. It's something I saw in Edward Tufte's beautiful books on information visualization.

I've been noticing a recent trend of late is to use a bit of background highlighting. I just saw it again on Garrett Dimon's now popular post on presenting the customer with alternative design choices. It's a bit hard to see, but it's certainly a good thing. Although I still prefer good ol' red text.


  • I do like background highlighting. I was at one of Tufte's travelling lectures two weeks ago, and he was very insistent on using the lowest saturation yellow possible when highlighting--to the point where the reader will only subconsciously pick up on the fact that the highlight stands out on the page. Maybe about 1/2 the saturation of what you used in this post.

    By Blogger Darius Kazemi, at 4/18/2005 4:25 a.m.  

  • Oh, also, we really need to talk sparklines at some point! I love that idea, and I've been playing with some PostScript stuff and inserting it into my Word documents using TexPoint.

    By Blogger Darius Kazemi, at 4/18/2005 4:26 a.m.  

  • You've been to one of Tufte's lectures? I'm jealous.

    And sparklines rock!

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 4/18/2005 9:19 a.m.  

  • For folks like me who are red/green deficient, the yellow highlighting works much better than red text. Of course traditional typographic techniques like italicizing work great too.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/18/2005 10:01 a.m.  

  • I don't mind some highlighting as long as it is subtle. People often use their own way to analyze text and overused highlighting or bold can be a pain.

    Remember buying used texts? Sometimes what one prof wanted emphasized was different from another. Unfortunately that cheap text, that was almost yellow, highlighted the wrong things.

    By Blogger Leon, at 4/21/2005 4:19 a.m.  

  • Anon - Good point about the red/green.

    Leon - Yes, the dreaded used-textbook highlighting really sucks.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 4/21/2005 9:30 p.m.  

  • I, too, had the privilege of seeing Mr. Tufte on one of his lecture circuits last year.

    The red text is nice (and effective in some instances), but I find using color is best when pulling attention to specific points in tables or data analysis. There is something rather halting about red text that, to me, seems to stop the flow of the average reader.

    Sparklines are ridiculously cool. I am jonesing for a reason to create one or two. I just haven’t had a project come down the pipe that would benefit from them. His next book (that will discuss them in more depth) is definitely on my list.


    By Blogger terry, at 4/29/2005 7:37 a.m.  

  • Hi Terry - Yeah, I guess the red text is a bit halting ... maybe I'll start using highlighting instead.

    Maybe part of the reason we don't use sparklines more is that they do take a bit of effort - they aren't super-duper-trooper easy like typing letters. Unless someone made a generic web service that returned back a GIF stream ... that would get to be a huge server load though. Would be cool though!

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 4/30/2005 12:58 a.m.  

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