The Color Strata & Other XKCD Color Data Visualizations

The Color Strata was created by Weather Sealed. Weather Sealed (whose informative work has been mentioned here once before) is Steven Von Worley who “finds inspiration at the fringes of art, science, photography, and life” and turns it into “quality over quantity, original content, and the occasional chuckle.” See it all here. The Color Strata is based on data from XKCD color survey.

The self described “incorrigible data hound” Von over at Weather Sealed who like all good hounds for interesting information keeps his nose up for new work by  XKCD, another person (Randall Munroe) of the interesting sorts, who has a hilarious archive of “romance, sarcasm, math and language” comics, and a knack for research. Recently XKCD released the findings from his color study.

The Color Study

Here’s a snippet from the color study results page:

Thank you so much for all the help on the color survey.  Over five million colors were named across 222,500 user sessions.  If you never got around to taking it, it’s too late to contribute any data, but if you want you can see how it worked and take it for fun here.

First, a few basic discoveries:

  • If you ask people to name colors long enough, they go totally crazy.
  • “Puke” and “vomit” are totally real colors.
  • Colorblind people are more likely than non-colorblind people to type “fuck this” (or some variant) and quit in frustration.
  • Indigo was totally just added to the rainbow so it would have 7 colors and make that “ROY G. BIV” acronym work, just like you always suspected. It should really be ROY GBP, with maybe a C or T thrown in there between G and B depending on how the spectrum was converted to RGB.
  • A couple dozen people embedded SQL ‘drop table’ statements in the color names. Nice try, kids.
  • Nobody can spell “fuchsia”.

The Color Strata

Once the information was out, Weather Sealed’s design team went to work to create The Color Strata:

Once Randall delivered his frequently side-splitting analysis of the results, artfully punctuated by his wonderful Color Map (pictured below): an illustration detailing the territorial dominance of each name in fully-saturated RGB space.  The kicker was that the magnanimous Munroe made the individual survey responses – possibly the largest body of such information in existence – publicly available for anyone to use.  Kudos for freeing the data, dude!

Now, deep in the cockles of my drama queen heart, there’s always been a little shrine for the colors with the charismatic, less-spoken names.  Could periwinkle roll off the tongue more adorably? Maroon? Aye, there be pirates about!  And yeah, burgundy and chartreuse do sound a bit boozy, but they’re hella more fun at parties than “dark red” and “yellow-green.”

Their Achilles’ heel?  The lack of a verbal tether to the common colors, causing the occasional mix-up about what they mean.  Case in point: until yesterday, I thought that khaki was an olive-type of green, but per my wife and other experts, it leans more towards beige and brown.

Egads!  I’d been afflicted by the embarrassing scourge of color confusion! So that no one else should suffer it – or have to wear Dockers to know what “khaki” means – Weather Sealed’s design team went to work on a cure.  The resulting visualization, borne of the XKCD data, shows the primary color names, their lesser-used brethren, and the relationship between them:

More Color Study Visualizations

Weather Sealed wasn’t the only one thirsty for color knowledge and ripe with ideas of ways to visualize the findings. Others took to their coloring books to create these:

Howard Yeend ‘s 3D visualization

Gissehel’s Raw Data Maps

Rune Grimstad’s Color Picker Tool

Author: evad
David Sommers has been loving color as COLOURlovers' Blog Editor-in-Chief for the past two years. When he's not neck deep in a rainbow he's loving other things with The Post Family (, a Chicago-based art blog, artist collective & gallery.