Choosing colors for a design can be both highly subjective and, at times, highly scientific. The most effective color choices go beyond personal preferences because colors are able to easily influence mood, emotions and perceptions. They can also take on personal and cultural meanings as well as attract attention, both consciously and subconsciously.

With a basic understanding of color theory, you will be able to more easily balance the complex roles that color plays to create beautiful, effective dashboard designs.

The Color Wheel

The traditional color wheel of 12 colors provides an easy visual way of understanding how colors relate to each other. Mixing the primary or base colors of red, yellow and blue will create the secondary colors on the color wheel: orange, green and violet. Mix those with a primary color and you will get the third level of the color wheel, tertiary colors, which include red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet and red-violet.

The 60-30-10 Rule

A common rule of thumb for using a three-color palette in a design is known as the 60-30-10 rule. Simply make your dominant hue account for 60% of the color in the design while two accent colors use up the remaining 30% and 10%. Picturing a man’s business suit will help drive this point home: the suit jacket and pants account for 60% of the color in the outfit; the shirt accounts for 30% and the tie provides a pop of color at 10%. Together, this creates a balanced, sophisticated appearance.

Choosing Colors in Dashboard Design

In data visualizations, the importance of color is not just aesthetics – it also conveys meaning. Dashboard colors help draw your eye to critical information. identify data relationships and can highlight potential issues early on. Red and green are commonly used when designing thresholds to indicate financial loss or gain. When red is used within a dashboard, it acts as an alert and prompts the user to further investigate the data at hand while alerting them of a possible issue.

When designing dashboards, chances are the client you are working with already has a pre-defined color palette used in their branding. This is a great place to start. Begin by identifying a dominant color, often one that is found in the logo. You may use that as your accent color to focus attention on the most important information in your dashboard. From there, you may choose secondary colors that complement the accent color and help tie in all of the visuals.

Having a general understanding of why certain industries lean toward certain colors is also crucial in determining the right color palette for your dashboard design. The chart below represents some of the top 20 companies in each industry and the colors that best represent them as well as the services they provide.


It’s important to note that when designing dashboards, you should be mindful of certain limitations some may have in terms of color-blindness. Red-green color blindness is the most common and we should not rely too heavily on these colors to convey key differences in dashboards. Providing some context to a user who cannot see these hues, such as visual arrow indicators or icons, will be extremely helpful to them.

It is also important to maintain consistency throughout your designs. For example, if the color teal indicates Sales in one chart, it should represent Sales in all charts. In this way, colors are used consistently to convey the same meaning across all charts.

In general, more often than not, desaturated colors tend to appear more professional than bright, bold colors, which can be seen as childish. Ultimately, it depends on your color palette and the client’s preferences.

Another way to keep your palette balanced is using shades and tints (or lighter and darker versions of a chosen hue.) In this way, you can expand your color choices without overwhelming your design.

Final Thoughts

Color signals a user where to look and what to pay attention to. It also carries tone and meaning and can mean many things in different cultures. Consequently, it is very important to be aware of your audience while designing a dashboard.

Color should be used consistently throughout your design to help create a seamless, intuitive user experience. That said, one should never solely rely on color to convey meaning as not everyone sees color in the same way. Using icons, text and/or graphics will help ensure that the proper meaning is conveyed to the user.

While these tips may only scratch the surface of understanding the usage of color in design, we hope they help you to make better informed, more effective color choices within your work. Happy designing!