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This post was updated on September 13, 2018, to include different creative timeline examples and tie them more directly to project timeline creation tips.
I’ll be honest: I’m a sucker for good visualizations. If a graphic conveys useful information quickly and looks good while doing it, sign me up. I’ll share that bad boy all over the internet in no time.
Creative timelines are one of my favorite examples of useful visualizations. Not only do they convey lots of information in a simple way, they also provide context for that information by displaying it sequentially along with other related events.
Timelines can stretch far back in time or fast-forward into the future. They can show how events happened or are happening simultaneously. Some timelines are even designed in a way to show where things happened in time, giving you geographic contexts for various events.
My point is, timelines are awesome.
My second point is, if you’re looking to for a way to quickly convey when something will happen and how it fits into the bigger picture, a good timeline can go a long way.
Project and program managers are acutely aware of this fact, which is why many rely on timelines to share basic project information—milestones, due dates, ongoing tasks, all the important moving pieces—with their teams.
To help you get just as excited about timelines as I am (good luck!) and start applying your organizational skills to project timelines, I found some creative timeline examples I love. Hopefully, these timelines will give you a good idea of graphics that convey lots of useful information while also grabbing their viewers’ attention.
Creative timeline examples you can draw inspiration from
The creative timeline examples in this piece were picked completely subjectively, based on nothing but my own personal taste. There was no academic process in selecting them, I just picked ones that made me say, “Oooh, that’s nice!” Hopefully, you’ll find a creative timeline example or two in this post that you like, as well.
In some instances, I’ve cropped these timelines. However, I’ve tried to include the important parts of the images, and I’ve included the image’s sources so you can view the full timelines for more context.
1. It’s as simple as showing a sequence of events
This creative “timeline” example is really a table of contents. It shows where various chapters are located and gives you a visual summary of what each chapter will be about.
Your takeaway: A timeline doesn’t have to be a huge deal. You can use one to convey a simple sequence or order of things at a glance.
2. You don’t need to get fancy
This hand-drawn creative timeline example shows all the important events of the US Revolutionary War. And it's still aesthetically pleasing, even though it wasn't made with fancy software.
Your takeaway: You don’t have to have ridiculous coding or graphic design skills to make an effective timeline. Including the important information in the right order is what matters most.
3. Provide as much or as little information as you need
This creative timeline example highlights important medical discoveries from medicine’s early days. If you’re just looking to name several important medical advancements, you can do this by reading the timeline at a glance. But if you want to know more, you can look at the wealth of information this timeline provides.
Your takeaway: You can use a timeline to convey as little or as much information as you want. But if you’re going to include lots of information, be sure to emphasize the main points first with a larger font or different colors, like this creative timeline example does.
5. Emphasize events that have made or will make the biggest impact
This creative timeline example depicts related events and the estimated impact of those events by using different sizes of bubbles along the timeline.
Your takeaway: You can use different elements, such as the size of your graphics, to emphasize more important events over smaller ones throughout your timeline to show that not every event is created equal.
6. You can compare two (or more) projects at once
This creative timeline example shows the number of media mentions particular diseases got from the media in any given year. You can see how often certain diseases were mentioned compared to others in the same time period.
Your takeaway: You don’t have to limit yourself to one project at a time. You can compare the effort your team made on various projects over time or take a look at how much different products were mentioned on social media and compare the two at once to convey where you should be putting your efforts.
7. Let people customize your timeline
This interactive creative timeline example lets you play with different variables to quickly assess changes in diverse employment trends at major tech companies over time. The ability to quickly visualize changes year over year makes it easy to see advances and setbacks for minority populations in tech.
Your takeaway: We can’t all code interactive timelines, but the more you let readers or stakeholders customize the information they can see on your timeline, the more useful it can be. When people can customize their views, they’re able to see what’s important to them specifically.
8. Show how the past has affected the present
Ever wondered when someone thought Comic Sans was a good idea? Or what the origins of famous logo fonts were? Did you know the font used in the Harry Potter books was first created nearly 500 years ago??? Well, you can see all that at a glance by looking at this creative timeline example, which matches font origins to modern day literature and marketing.
Your takeaway: You don’t have to focus on right now. If your team worked on something years ago that’s contributing to the success of a current project, be sure to emphasize that historic link so past efforts don’t go unnoticed. Sometimes making the connection for your stakeholders will help them see just how much work you’ve been putting in to make a project truly successful over time.
9. Show how you’ve improved
This creative timeline example looks very simple and straightforward, but it’s actually accomplishing several feats at once:
- Separating decades through color-coding
- Depicting advancements in technology size and design style
- Comparing sales figures to corresponding gaming systems so you can see the comparative popularity and lucrativeness of Nintendo’s various gaming systems
If that’s not an effective use of graphics and data, I don’t know what is, folks.
Your takeaway: You can use a timeline to compare past and present versions of your product to show how your team’s work over the years has provided noticeable improvements (and connecting those improvements directly to sales figures wouldn’t hurt, either).
10. Provide chronological and historical context
This creative timeline example focuses on the history of life on earth. Similar to the above Nintendo timeline, it shows the vastly differing appearance of lifeforms from the start of the earth’s history as we know it to the present day. It also draws attention to when mass extinction events occurred, as well as provide a short description of what was happening on earth during a given time period when different animals started to appear.
Your takeaway: Again, showing the progression of your product or project can help emphasize how far you’ve come, but if there were any events that contributed to or slowed down your progress, those might be important to note and call attention to, as well.
11. Show where certain events might have slowed you down
Regardless of your religious beliefs, this creative timeline example does a great job of showing Old Testament biblical figures in time by depicting which patriarchs’ lifespans overlapped. You can also see how lifespans shortened dramatically (according to the Bible) sometime after the great biblical flood.
Your takeaway: If you can show how different phases of your project—or other teams’ projects—impacted your own or your portfolio as a whole, it can be helpful when describing a big picture. Including important events —such as a biblical flood or worldwide economic recession, for example—can also add context to the progression of your project.
12. Use the past to justify future expectations
Did you know the creation of cheese was an impressive advancement of biotechnology? Me either, but thank heavens the Egyptians discovered it. I, for one, am forever grateful to this culinary science. This creative timeline example stretches thousands of years into the past and forward into the future to highlight important biotech advances (such as cheese), all on a multi-colored DNA double helix graphic.
Your takeaway: Don’t be afraid to predict things based on past and present events. You don’t need to look back to ancient Egyptian times to do it, but looking at past progress can help set expectations and plans for the future.
13. Simple (but powerful) comparisons will suffice
Bear with me: this graphic is less of a creative timeline example and more of a comparison of time periods. However, I’m highlighting this drug test infographic to show how a simple graphic comparison (different amounts of sand in side-by-side hourglasses) can quickly convey huge time differences. This infographic doesn’t really contain much in-depth information—nor does it need to—because its images are so powerful and straightforward.
Your takeaway: If you can compare things side-by-side in a simple graphic format, you don’t need a lot of explanation for your stats and figures. If you’ve got particularly powerful or compelling numbers to explain, try to depict them in a similarly straightforward way.
14. Emphasize exactly what’s important
This simple—but still creative—timeline example does one thing very well: it separates and conveys information through simple color coding and bold font. I could cut this timeline into different pieces and have a flashcard set of inventors and inventions who influenced the industrial revolution.
Your takeaway: If you need to emphasize certain points in time, sometimes all it takes is a simple bold font or attention-grabbing color. You don’t need to make all your information super flashy, but you should spend time making sure people see your most important points clearly.
15. Use timelines even for short periods of time
A good timeline can really spice up a simple agenda. This creative timeline example takes a wedding itinerary and adds a personal touch with simple graphics. Plus, there’s the added bonus of literally being able to picture how the day will go: I know just from looking at this timeline that the day starts with preparation—makeup, taking pictures—and ends in a huge party.
Your takeaway: Timelines don’t have to focus on large events that happen over a long span of time. You can also break smaller time frames down to emphasize the important things that need to happen that you might not necessarily see with a birds’ eye view of a project.
16. Show how your work is connected to a larger purpose
In the middle of a sprint, it can be difficult to remember what you’re working toward. You can get so caught up in your smaller tasks that you forget the larger project. This creative timeline example shows the phases of a project broken down into sprints, the purpose of each sprint, and how much progress is made at the end of each sprint.
Your takeaway: Linking smaller project phases together to show how they connect to a finished product or your project as a whole can be helpful when reminding teammates why different sprints are individually important.
Convey tons of information in the shortest amount of time
Hopefully, these creative timeline examples got you jazzed about all the project timelines you can make for your team. Whether you’re creating timelines by hand on paper or a whiteboard or using powerful data crunching tools to make them, I hope these creative timelines examples have highlighted the important information you should be sharing with your team.
Did I mention Targetprocess is one of those powerful data crunching tools? Because it is. You can visualize and manage every step of your project’s progress with our tool and customize views to quickly communicate when your projects are on track— and quickly fix them when you see they’ve gone off the rails.
Want to learn more about project timelines? Check out these related posts: