When applying the benefits of color to construction documents, some of the most common hurdles encountered are proper color selection and determining the most efficient use of these colors within printed documents. Those overseeing the application of color to construction blueprints and plans need to determine a process for building a color coding system that works. However, each color coding system will vary depending on the trade, the project and the needs of each project's contractor.
Since there are currently no construction industry standards or guidelines in place for color use within plan sets and blueprints, architects, engineers and contractors should take cues from other industries. A considerable amount of research has been conducted in various fields to determine how color can improve communication. One study, performed to determine the human eye's interpretations and reactions to various colors, was performed by the Color Research Lab at the NASA Ames Research Center. Their Website has a wealth of information about design methods, color science and color guidelines.
NASA provides information regarding the use of color in information display graphics. The concept is aimed at creating a color scheme for complicated graphics or documents with a high information load. NASA uses these methods of color coding for aerospace applications such as air traffic control, cockpit design and other "high threat decision" environments.
Below is a simplified version of NASA's checklist for the color graphic design process. The key is to understand what the user of the data is trying to do and how. This checklist can be directly applied to color scheme design process for wide format printing applications.
- Compile a data inventory
- What information needs to be displayed?
- Who is going to use it and for what tasks?
- What data might be added in the lifetime of the design?
- Plan for management of users' attention
- Create an urgency hierarchy how important are the data to the activities that the users will be conducting?
- Design perceptual layers
- Choose contrast polarity design with dark colors against a white background
- Match the salience (prominence) of the data layers to their hierarchy
- Manipulate salience by adjusting contrast, symbol/font size, line weight, screen pattern, etc.
- Decide where color will be used and why
- Identify the places that color coding is needed
- Color can make data "pop out" but overuse of color can dilute its impact. Therefore, use color only for the things it does well:
- Grouping related elements
- Labeling data with color
- Creating pop-out to distinguish elements
- Choose colors - Consider possible constraints:
- Cultural constraints Be careful with the safety code (red, amber, green)
- Standards Deviations from legacy practices can induce errors
- Consistency Color use should be consistent with other applications in the user's working environment
- Legibility The colors we want may not give our symbols significant contrast to be legible
- Perceptual layering The luminance required may not be available in the preferred hues and saturations
- Identifiability The identification requirements of the color coding scheme may restrict the set of usable colors
- Solve problems
- Return to the "perceptual hierarchy" stage several iterations may be required
- Isolate symbols from backgrounds with in-fills our outlines (this is not recommended because it takes up real estate and adds complexity)
- If no solution is found, remove data or move it to another page
Though this checklist was originally formulated for use in applications required by NASA, many of the same color coding standards can be modified and applied by stakeholders within the construction industry.
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