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Stephen Few, a respected IT innovator, consultant, and educator has studied the art and science of visual presentation for many years. In a White Paper prepared for Cognos Corporation, he presents seven principles for the effective display of quantitative information. The second of these is presented below:
“Because differences in visual properties, such as color, are used to communicate actual differences in the information itself, visual differences should never be used arbitrarily. When people notice visual differences, they try to discern the meaning of those differences. Don't confuse people and waste their time by including visual differences that are meaningless. Figure 5 shows a common example of how this rule is broken. What is the meaning of the different colors that appear on the bars? The answer is “nothing.” We already know what the bars represent, because they are labeled as years along the X-axis. Meaningless visual differences such as this gratuitous use of color not only cause people to search for meanings that don't exist, but in this case they clutter the graph with an eye-assaulting abundance of color.”