Product Managers & The Secret Of The Color Wheel

by drjim on March 16, 2009

Product Mangers Need To Learn How To Use A Color Wheel

Product Mangers Need To Learn How To Use A Color Wheel

So I’m just a little bit off the beaten path with this discussion, but I’ve recently had to sit through so many bad presentations that I’m feeling an overwhelming need to try to make the world a better place for Powerpoint slides to live in.

We all live and die by Powerpoint. I can’t begin to tell you how many bosses that I’ve had that insisted that I provide them with status updates in Powerpoint form. What part of my hero Edward Tuff’s write up after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster (“Powerpoint Does Rocket Science“) did they not read?

Well no matter, we have to do what we have to do. However, at the very least we should be able to do it to the best of our ability. One of the greatest errors that I’ve been seeing as of late is the criminal use of colors that in no way should ever be used together. Look, I realize that for most of us (guys) getting dressed in the morning can be a challenge (what goes with what), but we should have the same level of concern when it comes to creating slides.

So how should a product manger pick colors for his/her Powerpoint slides? Simple – use a color wheel. Using a color wheel and just a bit of color theory, a product manger can start to produce professional looking slides. It turns out that using analogous colors (colors that are next to each other on the color wheel) or complementary colors (colors are across from each other on the color wheel) are easy ways to get your colors right.

Thanks to the Internet, there are now free sites that if you need to start with one color (company color, product color) will allow you to find out what colors work with that color. If this all seems to be too much for you, then you can visit the Colors On The Web site and press the button in order to get a random color scheme that has matching colors created for you.

How do you select what colors to use in your presentations today? Have you ever seen a really bad set of colors used in a presentation? Have you ever used a color wheel before? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Victor Velasquez March 16, 2009 at 4:57 pm

It is nice to read tips for presentations! Color is definitely one thing to consider.
But what about engaging the audience more to your presentation. Make them pay more attention and help them take notes?
Here is an article about a simple but effective technique:

http://www.nearsoft.com/ns/blog/The-Fill-In-the-Blank-Presentation-Technique.html

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greebs March 17, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Your hero’s name is actually Edward Tufte, something to probably get right if he is indeed your hero.

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Dr. Jim Anderson March 19, 2009 at 7:37 am

Greebs: you are 100% correct. I’ll try to make up for my (once again) spelling error by including a link that all can follow to find out why I think Edward is a fantastic information presentation expert (the NYT called him “the da Vinci of Data”):

Edward Tufte’s Web Site: http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/
Wikipedia Entry For Edward Tufte: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Tufte

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Dr. hopkinsgurg March 21, 2010 at 7:02 pm

that color wheel chart is stupid. there are so many ones better than that

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Dr. Jim Anderson March 26, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Well now, a color wheel is a color wheel — they are all pretty much the same. What’s important is getting the main point — certain colors go together and others don’t. Just take a look around you the next time you get together with a bunch of product managers and see how they dress — maybe we should all have a color wheel of some sort in our closets…!

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Ginger May 24, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I agree with many of the comments left here.
1. If the colors are blindingly obnoxious, it will be hard to move the audience past that and into the content. So, yes, content is important to engage the reader, however, when a super bright neon yellow is used around the frame of your subject, it is not likely to get the reader to read the content.

2. A color wheel is a color wheel. If the basic presenter doesn’t know how to make a presentation reasonably interesting visually, it is probably better to start with a basic color wheel until the new habit is formed. Then, a more complex wheel is easier to accept and grasp. I know some PowerPoint users who are incredibly adept at putting a presentation together with content, effects and other equally impressive advanced features, so it is not a matter of intelligence. It is a matter of learning a new skill and understanding that the audience can absorb so much more when basic concepts of color and visual attraction are followed. Simply put, some things are easy on the eyes, which allows the audience to study it longer instead of being repelled by it.

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Dr. Jim Anderson May 27, 2011 at 9:30 am

Ginger: all good points. Knowing how to use a color wheel won’t save a bad presentation! I agree with you in that product managers should start off by taking it easy and then build up to more complex color selections. Crawl, walk, run!

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