How to create a timeline infographic

A timeline infographic is used for displaying sequential events and events set in time. Before creating a timeline, you have to decide on two important template points that will determine how many people can view and understand the timeline:

  1. What timeline format to use? Winding, horizontal, or vertical?
  2. How to create visual hierarchy of information so that reader actually follow your timeline?

How to Choose a Timeline Infographic Format That Works

What formats are available? There are 3 choices: coiled or winding timelines, horizontal timelines, and vertical timelines. Coiled timelines use space in the most effective way. Straight vertical timelines have more space for text and generally are more readable on mobile. Horizontal timeline work best in presentations and posters since they are more intuitive. If space is not a constraint, horizontal timelines are the way to go.

What if you want to use the same infographic in a presentation and on your blog where many will read it on mobile. The best way to optimize for every device is to create multiple versions of your infographic. Here the same infographic is optimized for web, mobile, and presentations or a poster. This took me exactly 30 seconds to do on Adioma because it redraws the infographic for different templates automatically.

timelline infographic template formats

Make a reader follow your timeline infographic visually

  1. Every timeline infographic should have a starting point. That point should be obvious. The best place is either in the the top center of in the upper left corner. Adding something that draws attention to the beginning of the timeline is a great idea.
  2. Every point on the timeline should be dated, unless the date is the same as the previous point.
  3. There should be a visual hierarchy in the font you use for dates and for event descriptions. Are the dates more important? Make them larger than event descriptions. If the events are more important make the date smaller. This is called information layering. To make the layers even more distinct, use a serif font for the date and a sans-serif for the description.
  4. Every timeline infographic should have an actual line that is visible. This may be obvious, but it does get overlooked often enough. Text, icons and illustrations should never overpower that line. If your readers looses visual contact with your line, they lost your entire timeline. That’s why you should avoid gaps, interruptions and any decoration on the line itself. This principle of non-interruption is called the constancy principle. It applies in real life just like it does in the digital life. The constancy principle is what allows our brains to make sense of things.

To understand this principle, think of a time when you didn’t recognize a friend because they changed their hair. If someone asked you to look closer at their face, you would have to problem to tell it is your friend. But our brains are energy-efficient. They don’t look for the details all the time. We expect hair color to be constant enough that we use it to recognize people by.

Creating an infographic is the same as creating a micro-world where you set the rules of understanding. Children under 5, those who are “new to this world” often think that if a parent is not physically there, they stopped existing. They have yet to make the connection that not seeing something visually does not mean it does not exist somewhere else. Your readers have the same reaction to your infographic – if something is not constantly there, in plain sight, they are not sure if it stopped mattering/existing. If you want them to follow your timeline, play by the rules of their psychology.

Following these rules you can make very long timelines and still keep the reader’s attention. Here are the examples of an entire book made into a timeline infographic.

biography infographic timelines made by Anna Vital