Context: The artifact is made up of a large number
of Navigable Spaces, which is organized
into a small number of major subsections.
[rewrite this] From Information Architects: pg 83 (Peachpit
Press), 168-69 (3M), 182-83 (rainforest poster), 188-89 (Apple multimedia
book), 212-213 (chair demo), 222-223 (college search)
Problem: How can an artifact both give users a sense
of place, and also tell them where they are, within a large network of
Solution: Use color to identify the major sections
of the artifact. Pick one color per major section, and use it
on every space or working surface within that section. It may be
a background color, a trim color, or even a text color, but make sure it
is used in the same way throughout the artifact. In particular, use
it within a consistent visual framework which unifies the artifact; the
user should remember the artifact's distinctive look, not the look of a
The user has a need to know approximately where he or she is, at all times.
Sometimes it's impractical to use a Map
of Navigable Spaces to show where a user is, due to space constraints,
look and feel issues, or a lack of appropriate technology.
A text label saying what section the user is in may be ugly or unnoticeable,
and the user has to take the time to read and parse it.
Iconic labels may have the same problem with being ugly or unnoticeable,
and may be far more incomprehensible than text.
Your visual interface may look better with a little livening up.
If you're using the section color as a background, or otherwise using
a lot of it, then use subtler, lighter, or less saturated colors -- vivid
colors in large areas make a strong impression. If the color is used
in smaller visual elements, be bolder, so that the color gets noticed.
Colors chosen from a single hue, but with varying lightness or saturation,
may be interpreted as being "more or less of something" -- they imply an
order, which may not be what you want. On the other hand, colors
from different hues (red, blue, green, yellow, etc. being the primary
ones) don't imply any relative order, so they may be better for sections
that are random-access, or that are equal in status or importance.
Resulting Context: Don't forget to provide a way
to go to other major sections (Clear
Entry Points), or to the "home space" of the artifact (Go
Back to a Safe Place). Consider also that you may have color-blind
users, so if this is an important navigational feature, you may want to
offer a non-color-based alternative in addition to the color, like text
Why it works:
Color is highly identifiable by the human visual system, probably more
so than text labels or icons; a user just sees it, and doesn't have to
think about it.
It is used here as both a unifier (of a bunch of diverse spaces within
one section of the artifact) and as a differentiator (between the sections).
It therefore lends structure to a set of spaces, from which a user
can easily form a correct mental model.
It also helps create a sense of place for the user, when combined with
a consistent visual layout -- it becomes repetitive, familiar, and reassuring,
while at the same time making a layout more colorful and interesting.
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last modified May 17, 1999
Copyright (c) 1999 by Jenifer Tidwell. All rights reserved.