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Selecting Semantically-Resonant Colors for Data Visualization

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Abstract

We introduce an algorithm for automatic selection of semantically-resonant colors to represent data (e.g., using blue for data about “oceans”, or pink for “love”). Given a set of categorical values and a target color palette, our algorithm matches each data value with a unique color. Values are mapped to colors by collecting representative images, analyzing image color distributions to determine value-color affinity scores, and choosing an optimal assignment. Our affinity score balances the probability of a color with how well it discriminates among data values. A controlled study shows that expert-chosen semantically-resonant colors improve speed on chart reading tasks compared to a standard palette, and that our algorithm selects colors that lead to similar gains. A second study verifies that our algorithm effectively selects colors across a variety of data categories.

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