Infographics are a great way to capture user attention and communicate key concepts. Why? Because they combine relevant information with graphic impact to increase retention and engagement.
Data backs up this common-sense assertion: Research found that people retain 65% of the information they see — but only 10% of the information they hear — and spend 39% less time searching for the content they need when it’s displayed in infographic format.
One of the most compelling uses for this functional format? Timeline graphics. These date and data delivery vehicles offer a way to quickly communicate important information — from key dates in your company’s history to upcoming project milestones or predicted market trends.
Of course, it’s one thing to see the value in timeline graphics and another to actually create attractive and effective visuals. In this piece, we’ll tackle timeline tactics for familiar applications including Google Docs, Word, Excel, Google Sheets, and Powerpoint.
What is a timeline graphic?
While there’s no single format for timeline graphics, the most common composition uses four parts:
Each timeline element contains all four parts, and elements are then arranged in left-to-right order of oldest-to-newest events. This format offers simplicity of form and function — elements are easy to read and identify, and the “flow” of time is simple to spot.
Let’s say you’re creating a timeline of key events in your corporate history using this framework. It might look something like this:
This (very basic) example was made in Google Docs and uses an arrow to denote the passage of time. Dates above the line are paired with brief details below. Some timelines will include both a header — such as merger — with a longer description below. How much information is worth including depends on the complexity of the topic at hand, who’s going to be using the chart, and its overall purpose. In this case, our graphic element is the line itself but you can also insert relevant images of people or places associated with the event to increase user engagement.
Another common graphic timeline format runs top-to-bottom with earlier dates at the top of the page and later dates further down. To maximize space many of these top-to-bottom templates alternate information left-and-right down the line.
Gantt chart, Google Sheets offers one of the easiest ways to create and share a timeline.
How to Make a Timeline in PowerPoint
Making a timeline in PowerPoint is almost identical to the process used in Word.
1. Select your design.
Head to the “Design” tab and select your theme.
2. Insert SmartArt.
Click on “Insert”, then “SmartArt”.
3. Choose and fill your timeline graphic.
Select the timeline you prefer and it will be created with three elements. Add text to the elements directly, and use “Add Bullets” to add bullet points below. Select “Add Shape” to additional timeline sections.
Timing is Everything
Timeline graphics add convenient context to otherwise dry data points. From details about your company from inception to current interaction to in-depth project milestone markers, visual timelines in Google Docs or Sheets, or Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint offer a way to capture critical data while simultaneously boosting viewer interest and bolstering information retention.