New Color Scale Makes Data Visualizations Easier for Colorblind People to Read

Mars topography visualized on a rainbow scale
Mars topography visualized on a rainbow scale
NASA/JPL/USGS

When designers want to visualize changes in data, like in a heat map or a topographical survey, they often reach for the rainbow. The rainbow color scale is almost the default for visualizing scientific and engineering data. And yet, putting all the colors of the rainbow into a single image isn’t a good idea. For one thing, as Scientific American reports, it makes visualizations impossible to read if you’re colorblind. And even if you can pick out every color in the image, that doesn’t mean you understand what going from red to violet means.

Now, researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington have developed an alternative to the rainbow color scale that will make data visualization and other images easier to decipher for people with color-vision deficiency and the general public. Using a mathematical model of how the brain perceives differences in color, they created a new color scale they call cividis, which shows data exclusively in shades of blue and yellow—the colors that someone with colorblindness would see while looking at a rainbow color scale.

A nanoscale image overlaid with four different color scales
The new blue-yellow color scale is labelled CVD-Jet
Nuñez et. al, PLOS ONE (2018)

They took traditional rainbow color maps and ran them through software that converted them to look closer to the blue-yellow scale that reflects what someone with the most common form of colorblindness sees. Then, the software adjusted the color and brightness of that image to look more consistent with how people interpret data. One of the problems with the rainbow scale is that people automatically see the brightest color as a peak, sometimes leading them to incorrect conclusions. Even though yellow is one of the middle colors in Roy G. Biv, it often jumps out at people as the most extreme color on the map, though red is the highest on the scale. In this color scale, the color does get brighter as the values go up, so you don't have to work as hard to interpret it.

In general, most people don’t intuitively know what order the colors of the rainbow should appear in at all. Red and violet are at opposite ends of the Roy G. Biv scale, but that’s not visually apparent. Narrowing the range down to two colors makes it easier for readers to pinpoint where on the scale a specific point is.

The two-color scale also makes changes in data look more gradual, whereas with a rainbow of colors, the difference between each color looks very stark. The ability to show a gradual progression can reflect more nuance.

It’s not just a matter of aesthetics. An eye-catching, complex rainbow visualization can lead scientists to misinterpret their own data, while an easier-to-read scale makes it easier for them to pick out patterns. In one 2011 study cited by Scientific American [PDF], scientists at Harvard found that doctors were faster and better at spotting signs of heart disease while looking at 2D images of arteries on a color scale that just used black and red than while looking at a 3D rainbow visualization.

Cividis has already been added to the color-scale libraries of some image-processing software, and its creators hope to convince more scientists and designers to use it in the future.

[h/t Scientific American]

This Ingenious Hanger Makes Hanging Pants a Breeze, No Clips or Folds Required

Hurdle Hanger
Hurdle Hanger

Get ready to clean out your closet. No, we don’t mean going all Marie Kondo on your clothes. There’s a new type of clothes hanger that promises to change the way you store your clothes, taking the headache out of hanging up your pants.

The Hurdle Hanger, which has currently raised more than $33,000 on Kickstarter, calls itself the “one-second pants hanger.” Rather than relying on cumbersome clips or requiring bulky folding techniques, the hanger design employs one very simple change: It hooks into the belt loops of your pants.

The angular hanger is open on one side so that you can slide the bar through the belt loops of your pants, letting you secure your pants in one smooth motion rather than struggling with the pant clips that will just wrinkle your waistband anyway.

A person slides the Hurdle Hanger through the belt loops of a pants to hang them.
Hurdle Hanger

Just slide the hanger bar through the belt loop (or loops) farthest from you, then hang the belt loop closest to you from the hook. There is another hook midway across the bar that secures the middle belt loop, keeping your pants from drooping while they hang. In another subtle touch, you can use the same hook to hang smaller items, like belts or hats, off the side.

The Hurdle Hanger is an example of smart design at its finest—the kind of idea that, when you see it in action, makes you think, “Wait, how did no one think of this before?” It takes a once-cumbersome task and makes it seamless, eliminating at least some of the burden that may be keeping you from accomplishing the chore of hanging up your clothes. No more messing with clips or trying to shove pants through the cramped hole in the hanger to fold them over.

There are already open-end pants hangers that make it easier to slide a folded pair of slacks into your closet, but the belt loop hooks take the Hurdle Hanger to another level. You might even get inspired enough to start hanging your jeans.

A 10-pack of hangers is $20 on Kickstarter—though anything that makes you actively excited to organize your closet is priceless.

Finally: These Women’s Jeans Are Designed With Pockets Deep Enough to Actually Hold Your Stuff

Radian Jeans
Radian Jeans

An investigation last year revealed what half the population has known for a while: Women’s pockets really are smaller than men’s. About 48 percent shorter and 6.5 percent narrower, to be precise.

This has long been a sore spot among women who would rather not lug around an oversized purse all day. While many of the top fashion labels are still making jeans with teeny, tiny pockets, a few entrepreneurs are giving the people what they want.

One such option, Radian Jeans, is now available for preorder on Kickstarter. These ultra-stretchy jeans come in two styles (skinny and straight fit), four colors (indigo, light blue, black, and white), and nine sizes (0 to 16). Best of all, the patent-pending pockets are big enough to fit your entire hand or phone inside, yet subtle enough to conceal the bulge. There are also interior flaps designed to prevent the contents of your back pockets from spilling out onto the sidewalk, or worse, into the toilet.

A pair of Radian Jeans with diagrams showing what can fit in the pants' front pockets
Radian Jeans

The jeans were designed by a husband and wife who both decided to pursue an education at MIT. Ahmed Malik is a current student at MIT’s Advanced Functional Fabrics of America’s Entrepreneurship Program, and his wife, Wardah, graduated with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science.

This technical know-how came in handy when they decided to make the jeans stain-resistant and temperature-regulated. In particular, a nanotechnology-based fabric treatment was applied to the white jeans to help repel stains. So if you’re the type of person who constantly spills wine or drops spaghetti sauce onto your lap, these may be the jeans for you.

A woman models Radian jeans
Radian Jeans

In addition, some of the jeans are outfitted with COOLMAX All Season Technology, which provides insulation on cold days and redirects moisture away from your body on hot days. As a finishing touch, a floral print on the pant leg interior lets you make a style statement by cuffing your jeans.

To snag a pair for $69, check out the Kickstarter page. Tailor-made sizes are also available for a more personalized fit.

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