Timeline Visualization: What And How?

timeline visualization

A timeline is a chart depicting the usage of a set of resources over a period of time. If you are managing a software project and want to show who performed what action when and where, or if you are organizing a meeting and need to schedule a meeting room, opt for timeline visualization.

What is a Timeline?

If you did not create a timeline during history class in school, you have probably seen one in reports or presentations since. Key events are marked along in chronological order on these graphical depictions of a time period. Either more complex visualizations or relatively straightforward linear representations can be used.

Histograms and line charts are familiar alternatives. They offer a quick way to obtain an overall summary of activity or value over time. A more detailed view can be provided by trend lines, stacked bars, or an adjustable scale. In contrast to timelines, they are not intended to display particular events or entities in your data.

Calendars and heatmaps offer great summary views of time-based data. They serve as a useful jumping-off point by outlining potential interest-generating time frames. However, they are less useful to analysts who are attempting to understand the relationships or a series of events.

The ability to communicate relationships, sequences and dependencies over time in data is better accomplished by specialized visualizations such as Sankey diagrams and Gantt charts. Yet they are aggregated views, just like the aforementioned examples. The majority of the time, they are static snapshots that are useful for presentations but less useful for ongoing investigations.

All of these examples lack three essential things an investigator needs:

  • a view of specific events over time, and the connections between them
  • interactivity that allows users to interrogate their data, dig into detail or take a higher-level view
  • a dynamic visualization approach that automatically adapts as data is added or removed

Why Timeline Visualization?

For any investigation, time is a crucial component. It can be challenging to formulate the right queries or reach reliable conclusions with timeline visualization. Without first knowing the “when,” it is frequently impossible to provide an answer to the “who,” “what,” “why,” “how,” and “where” questions.

With the help of timeline visualization, an investigator can see the entire picture by bringing together unrelated but connected events in a single view.

Let’s examine an illustration. The same fictitious credit card activity dataset is displayed in both of these time visualizations.

If you were a fraud investigator, you might be examining Marc’s disputed transactions (highlighted in red in both charts). Which visual aid makes it simpler to spot Marc’s first disputed transaction and the stores he visited prior to it?

Timeline visualization can be seen very clearly in the graph view, on the left, which uses different link colors for disputed and undisputed transactions. However, we are unable to determine the timing of each payment using this view alone.

Time-based questions are answered much more clearly in the timeline view. We can quickly determine that the first disputed transaction occurred at Walgreens in late March. For further research, this realization serves as a springboard.

How to Timeline Visualization Timelines?

There are six methods to make timeline visualization.

Create An Outline for Your Timeline Infographic

I like to start with a basic outline to help me stay on track while creating any new timeline visualization. This step is essential because the timeline’s design will be greatly influenced by the volume of content you intend to include. If you don’t know how much content you need to fit into the timeline, you might pick the wrong layout design and end up doing a lot of extra work.

Pick a Layout for Your Timeline Infographic

It is now time to choose a layout after having an outline prepared. Using your outline as a guide, you can now begin to make important design decisions.

choose the best layout for timeline visualization, you’ll want to consider two factors:

  1. The number of points in your outline
  2. Each point has a certain amount of text (i.e. the length of your descriptions)

While some layout designs work better with long passages of text, others are better suited to numerous instances where there is less text. Let’s go over the advantages and disadvantages of each timeline layout type.

Create the Framework for Your Timeline

After you have decided on a layout, it’s time to finally answer, “how to make a timeline?” Using the online Venngage timeline creator, I’ll walk you through the steps we took to create the template below from scratch.

The steps I’ll discuss here should work for the majority of timeline visualization since this is a fairly typical centered vertical timeline template.

The same fundamental structure should be used to build each timeline: a single line with discrete branches or nodes spaced at regular intervals. This may seem like common sense, but it’s extremely important.

timeline visualization

Add Dates, Text, and Images to Your Timeline Infographic

You can add the details to your timeline now that the framework has been established. Time to include the content

Since the infographic’s primary focus should be its images, start there. Drag icons or images from our built-in libraries into the timeline, aligning each with the corresponding branch.

The text from your outline should then be added. From the left toolbar menu, choose the header, subheader, and body text boxes. Then, position them on the page next to each branch. Dates should be entered in the header text boxes. Header text should be entered in the subheader text boxes. Body text boxes should contain descriptions.

Embellish Your Timeline Infographic With Colors, Fonts, and Decorative Shapes

Now that everything is in place, you can concentrate on making the timeline visualization design more aesthetically pleasing.

Start by picking a color scheme to spice things up a bit. To change the background color and the colors of other elements, use the color pickers in the top and left toolbars, respectively.

Have you noticed that throughout the entire timeline, we’ve utilized the same colors for the same elements? For this timeline, we can achieve a neat, polished appearance by sticking to a straightforward three-color palette. To draw attention to the dates, we used a vivid eye-catching red, while keeping the background fairly neutral in dark blue.

Next, let’s jazz up the style of our graphic by picking a font pairing with some characters. In the top toolbar, scroll through the font family selections until you find two or three fonts you like. For your headers and dates, feel free to use bold, stylized fonts, but limit yourself to using simple, readable fonts for your descriptions.

Finally, to give the timeline more structure, add some simple shapes like circles and boxes around crucial components (like icons and titles).

Download and Share Your Timeline Infographic Template

You’ll want to share your timeline visualization once you’ve finished modifying it with vibrant colors, fun shapes, and funky fonts.

You can choose to download each infographic from Venngage in PNG or PDF format. Make sure to pick the interactive PDF option if you want to include links in your timeline. Your best bet in the absence of that is probably high-quality PNG.

Direct embedding of your infographic on a website is another option. Simply hit “Publish” to get your embed code.

Do you know more about timeline visualization? And how to make timeline visualization?