Saturday, August 22, 2009

Somewhere over the rainbow

Among the many things I learned at the Gordon Research Conference (GRC) on Visualization in Science & Education -- an amazing experience, by the way, and highly recommended -- was how poorly regarded we scientists and engineers are when it comes to the use of colour in our visualizations. I can't say I disagree, since in our biofluids community, for example, one can, given an anonymized figure, often guess which software was used to produce it, in large part because users tend to stick to the default colour scheme, which is typically some variation on the execrable rainbow map.

Upon my return from the GRC, I happened upon a Facebook posting by the nice folks at Tecplot (the software we use for most of our visualizations, and also highly recommended), pointing to an enlightening IBM report entitled "Why should engineers and scientists be worried about color" (from where the above image is taken). With great enthusiasm I passed it along to some of the GRC attendees with whom I had discussed my longstanding, albeit naive, interest on this topic. Only later did I realize that the report was actually from the mid-90s, and that those to whom I'd sent it were well aware of it. (I blame it on my jetlag. :-)

Anyway, one of these individuals, Robert Simmon from NASA (check out his work at the Earth Observatory), provided me with the following useful links for helping to design more suitable colour mappings.

If you come across others, please feel free to add a comment to this post.