How Salesforce studied color to make a better user experience

4 min read
Emily Esposito
  •  May 18, 2018
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The color green is relaxing, red is passionate, and blue is tranquil. We all know that colors can affect our mood, but it turns out that color can also affect our decision making.

A team at Salesforce dedicated to its Analytics product recently conducted user research to find out if color influences how quickly and accurately we make decisions.

Here’s what they found:

Light color themes are preferred, although darker themes can contribute to certain performance improvements

“In one study, we examined how different foreground/background colors (‘themes’) influence performance and preference,” wrote Steve Fadden, Director of Analytics UX Research, and Mark Geyer, Creative Director of Analytics UX, in Fast Co Design.

“Before conducting our research, we guessed that the dark color theme would be more prominent and appealing to users. We had used the light theme for some time, and while it was familiar, we thought the novelty of the completely dark theme would spark new interest. However, we needed data to support this assertion.”

The team ran surveys asking users about their first impressions, preference, and value. To assess performance, Salesforce measured response time and accuracy of decisions made with charts rendered in different themes and palettes, with open text fields to understand users’ reactions.

“What looks good may not always be what customers want.”

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The initial results showed that users preferred the lighter (and sometimes hybrid) themes over the dark theme. They also had better first impressions of the lighter themes, and they indicated that they would be willing to pay more to use charts with lighter themes.

Then, looking at performance data, Salesforce saw a different story. Users made faster, and just as accurate, decisions with charts in the dark theme.

So what did they do with this conflicting data? Salesforce’s general analytics products use light themes by default. However, they do use a hybrid theme in analytics apps to help emphasize important information in the dashboard.

Color palettes with many different colors make it easier to understand data

In another study, the Salesforce Analytics team looked at how people responded to different color combinations used in charts. The expectation was that users would prefer palettes that had a common set of colors, as a palette with many different colors could be seen as less visually appealing.

Related: How to find the right color palettes for data visualizations

Study participants saw a number of charts in six different color palettes. Just like the first study, users shared first impressions, preference, and value feedback, and the speed and accuracy with which they made decisions were captured.

And again, the results were different than their expectations. Participants preferred palettes with greater color differentiation, saying they wanted analytics dashboards with distinct color variations.

Salesforce now uses mid-tone hues from around the wheel for operational reports and dashboards.

Data wins the day

These user studies are excellent reminders that we need to constantly validate, or debunk, our assumptions.Twitter Logo And that what looks good may not always be what customers want.

“For users, it’s clear that design for aesthetic preferences and design for business performance are not necessarily the same,” said Steve in a Salesforce blog post. “For designers, it’s a humbling reminder that we don’t always know what users will actually prefer.Twitter Logo Despite what we think is best for design and performance, it’s the data that wins the day.”

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