Chronological Order: Show Me the Timeline!

Posted on: July 21, 2010


Timeline Showing the Evolution of the Bicycle

Timeline Showing the Evolution of the Bicycle


Enmeshed as we are in time, it’s no wonder that timelines are among the most-used graphical devices.

But what to do when you need some ideas about all the ways you might represent a timeline?

As I was thinking about how to show eye-catching and mind-grabbing examples of timelines in this post, it occurred to me that nothing I could quickly devise would be a match for what is already in use on the web.

So I went hunting for timelines. And was pleasantly surprised. In addition to the well-known and beloved static graphs, charts and tables, I discovered some wonderfully unusual as well as interactive methods of showing time, which I share with you on the rest of this page.

Put on your hiking boots, rev up your curiosity and check out the following sites, where you will find plenty of useful ideas for creating readily understandable timelines that will dazzle your audiences. The examples can serve as models to help you communicate your information in vivid and delightful ways.

General. This MIT site contains some excellent timeline examples that will inspire you to think and get more creative. Within each timeline, take a tour of all the clickable, interactive features.

And of course there is Google Images, which presents a dizzying variety of inventive timelines. Click on an image to access the website of origin, where you can also enlarge the image.

Geologic Time Periods. This ingenious clock representation of the geologic time scale makes the length of each period relative to all the others readily apparent to even the casual reader. A “zoom” button in the caption area lets you enlarge the illustration. Compare that model with the accompanying standard, linear timeline that conveys the relative lengths of the supereons, eons, eras and periods in the earth’s history. In both examples, note the excellent use of high-contrast colors.

Global Financial Crisis. On the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s website, click on the word “Timeline” in each paragraph to display a PDF that clearly and beautifully illustrates the domestic and international timelines of policy responses to the global financial crisis.

Evolution. How do you show the major events in the development of life on earth? This is a fairly tall order, as the timeline of evolution stretches over billions of years, but the graphical and tabular models you will find at this site present a comprehensive picture.

Big Bang. The Big Bang was so huge and complex that one graphical timeline alone could not do it justice, which is perhaps why it is accompanied by a physical-cosmology table that contains many links to other related timelines. This example shows how sets of interrelated contextual information can be communicated to readers in a very approachable way.

World War I. This timeline of World War I uses tables to list key dates and event descriptions. The various war theaters are color-coded.

Immigration History. If you have questions about the history of immigration, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation timelines can help you. Each time period you select is accompanied by overview descriptions and relevant images.

History – Examples. Here are some typical ways to show a history timeline. Although this site is geared to teaching students about timelines, the examples are good and could be used as general models by anyone.

World History. The TimeMaps Atlas of World History uses maps with date tabs to allow you to step your way through key events in world history. These highly interactive timelines impart a full sense of the sweeping context of time for each event, its time period and its geographic location.

Emerging Diseases. The Global Health Council website shows several useful ways of representing emerging-disease timelines. Examples include pathogens identified since 1972, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and avian influenza.


For more about timelines, you might like the following post in my blog: Timelines about Life

Do you have any timeline examples to share with the readers of this blog? We’d all love to hear from you, so leave a comment, including the link to one of your personal favorites.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas


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