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  • Writer's pictureElena Drakulevska

Colour me impressed: Everything you need to know about colours in Power BI

Updated: May 31

In the world of data visualization, the visual appeal of reports can significantly impact their effectiveness. One powerful element at your disposal is colour.

In this blog post we'll explore the art and science of using colour in your Power BI reports to enhance clarity, emphasize important information, and even communicate brand identity. By using colour thoughtfully and intentionally, we can create reports that not only convey information effectively but also look visually appealing and engaging to our audience.

An artist mixing colours from different buckets

I often get asked, "How do you pick the colours for your report?" or "I spend forever choosing my colour palette, is it like that for you?" or "My client insists on using their company colours, but they are just so BOLD. What can I do?".

If you ever wondered about these colour dilemmas, you're in the right place! We're going to tackle these questions and more in the sections ahead:


Colour Theory & The Colour Wheel

Ever wondered how designers find the perfect colour combination? Well, they use colour theory—a blend of art and science—to determine which colours complement each other.

And, understanding the fundamentals of colour theory is also crucial for effective data visualization. Because remember, colours evoke emotions, convey meaning, and influence perceptions.

Check out this 1-minute video called "A Brief Lesson on Color Theory" by Rhea Lelina Manglapus, which gives an amazing introduction to colour theory.

The Colour Wheel, which is based on colour theory, showcases the relationship between colours. Colours that blend well together are known as colour harmonies. A colour wheel with its rules for colour combinations, helps us find harmonies by positioning colours effectively for a pleasing effect.

There are two main colour wheels: RYB (red, yellow, blue) for artists working with paints and RGB (red, green, blue) for online use, where colours are mixed in light on screens (like in TV or computers).

And luckily for us, there are bunch of (free) tools available online that can guide you in selecting colours that work well together and create a harmonious balance. It’s like having your own personal stylist, but for reports!

Here are some of my go-to tools:

Colours have different meaning and evoke emotions

It's important to note that colours can have different meaning and their meaning can vary significantly across cultures. Moreover, colours can evoke a range of emotions, contributing to the overall impact of your Power BI reports. For example, in Western cultures, red is often associated with passion or danger, while in some Asian cultures, it represents good luck and happiness.

It's important to research and understand the different cultural interpretations when selecting your colour palette. What is the impact that you would like to make? Are there specific colours that resonate positively with your target audience?

The 60-30-10 Rule

When it comes to colour, keep it simple and intentional. Colours shouldn't overwhelm the user.

One popular rule of thumb is the 60-30-10 rule, which suggests using three main colours in your design:

  • 60% - dominant colour

  • 30% - secondary colour

  • 10% - accent colour

For example, you can use the dominant color as the background, the secondary color for headings and subheadings, and the accent color for adding emphasis and capturing the user’s attention.

If you would need to introduce more than 3 colours, split the dominant colour (or the secondary colour, but never the accent!)

Enhancing accessibility in your reports with colour

To ensure that your reports are inclusive to everyone, including users with visual impairments, consider using high contrast and colour blind-friendly palettes.

  • Colour-blind-friendly palette: Consider using a palette that is inclusive. Tools like Adobe Color Accessibility Tools (again, I know, but it's not a paid ad) offer the option to check if the chosen palette is colour-blind safe. What's more, you can also see how people with different visual impairments perceive the chosen colours.

Colours on a colour wheel, how they look like to people with different visual impairments, and a message showing "No conflicts found. Swatches are color blind safe.""
Screenshot taken from Adobe Color Accessibility Tools

  • Microsoft's Power BI also has some built-in accessible themes that you can use. Under the "View" tab you can explore all the themes and expand to see the accessible ones.

Screenshot showing how you can expand the "View" tab in Power BI Desktop and choose an accessible theme.
Screenshot taken from Power BI Desktop

Using brand colours

When incorporating brand colours, you're not just reinforcing brand identity; you're also ensuring consistency across your organization's visual communication. Brand colours become a familiar and distinctive element for your audience.

However, if you have a single dominant brand colour, consider using it as an accent colour rather than the primary hue throughout the entire report. For the rest of the report, aim to create a complementary palette or explore different shades of the same colour, especially if the original tone is too bold or bright. This approach ensures a harmonious blend of brand representation and overall visual appeal.

Concluding remarks

When it comes to colours, less is more. Keep your designs simple and intuitive. And remember, the use of colour in Power BI reports is not just about aesthetics; it's about improving comprehension, drawing attention to key insights, and ensuring accessibility to all users.

What are your biggest challenges when it comes to using colour within reports? Your insights could inspire others in the Power BI community. Drop your thoughts in the comments section below and let's start a conversation!

P.S. If you are new around here, make sure to subscribe to get notified about future posts. In the meantime feel free to explore the previous posts to discover more about MoonStory and UX Design.

Happy learning! :)

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