One of my clients recently implemented a SharePoint calendar on a division’s intranet page and wanted to use color coding to group similar items. I was asked about the number of groups and color guidelines that should be followed for the calendar to be effective and usable. Overall, I recommend the following when implementing color coding for a calendar or any other SharePoint list:
1. Try keeping the number of colors used to five or six. This recommendation comes directly from guideline 16.9 in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines. “Color coding permits users to rapidly scan and quickly perceive patterns and relationships among items. Items that share the same color will be considered as being related to each other, while items with prominent color differences will seem to be different. People can distinguish up to ten different colors that are assigned to different categories, but it may be safer to use no more than five different colors for category coding. If more than ten different colors are used, the effects of any particular relationship will be lost.”
2. Remember, all users are not alike. Some may be colorblind; others may have lower resolution monitors. Make sure to use distinct, separate colors for each subject group. Choosing five different shades of blue will not successfully convey the meaning of each subject group to an end user quickly and easily.
3. Using color alone to convey information is against usability principles, which is a rule we are essentially breaking in this scenario. To enhance the calendar’s usability make sure a legend is displayed which allows users the ability easily distinguish the meaning of each color. Also, if there are important or urgent items, make sure to reflect this not only with a color grouping, but also through the use of a meaningful icon (!) , or text in the calendar entry (Urgent:).
Following the guidelines above, my client was able to implement an effective division calendar that easily conveyed meetings and events to end users and also looked great!