Now that infographics have entered our consciousness, we no longer need to think of timelines as events placed on a generic horizontal arrow. I recently wrote an article about the visual language of timelines, which got me thinking about how we can use them effectively in adult learning.
Why use timelines?
Timelines provide structure. Timelines have several things going for them. They provide a structure on which you can overlay information. Whether your timeline is horizontal, vertical, spiral or circular (as in the geological clock on the left), think of a timeline as the framework for your content. If your content consists of a progression in any way, see if you can creatively work it into this type of format.
Timelines enable chunking. Another ideal feature of timelines is that by their nature, they chunk information. Because events on a timeline occur at a point in time or during a segment of time, you’re residing in a chunking environment. Chunk away!
What topics work with timelines?
Here are a few possible categories of topics that can work in a timeline format. Think in terms of sequence, progression, history or evolution of processes, ideas and events. Have other ideas? Please add them in the Comments section below.
- Evolution of a company product
- Changes in relevant regulations
- Progression of industry events
- Explaining a linear process or procedure
- History of a company or organization
- Events in the life of an influential person
- Social changes and trends over time
- Growth or history of technologies in an industry
- Telling any kind of story in sequence
- History of a relevant city, town or region
What are some examples of timelines?
So glad you asked. Here are three unique timelines found on the online magazine, Good. You won’t find a straight horizontal line in one of them.
Using a map for a timeline. This example shows the history of how an old steel-mill town transformed itself. Using a simple map and iconic graphics is an effective way to communicate the geographical aspect of the content.
Using a series of slides for a timeline. This timeline shows depicts the history of California’s Proposition 8 by segmenting the information into a series of slides. With this approach, the timeline is never fully viewed in whole. This could be an effective approach when you want your audience to focus on one point or event at a time.
Using a trend graph for a timeline. To show how technology has affected worker productivity, this timeline is based on an upward diagonal, representing the trend of increasing productivity in the US. This is another example of how the shape or orientation of a timeline adds another layer of information to the communication. Before even looking at the numbers, the viewer can comprehend that productivity has increased.
If you really love timelines, you may want to check out Anthony Grafton’s book, Cartogrophies of Time: A History of the Timeline.