How to Create a Timeline Infographic in 6 Easy Steps

By Midori Nediger, Jun 28, 2018

create a timeline infographic

Timeline infographics are one of the best methods for displaying information over time. Their simple linear structure makes them perfect for making complex information more interesting, easier to follow, and more digestible.

While timeline infographics traditionally been used to visualize historical information, they can be used for so much more! They can be useful anytime you want to display a series of events in time, including:

create a timeline infographic

 

Whatever the purpose, there are a few basic steps you can follow to create a timeline infographic that’s attractive and engaging. 


Follow these steps to create a timeline infographic:

  1. Create an outline for your timeline infographic
  2. Pick a layout for your timeline infographic
  3. Create the framework for your timeline
  4. Add dates, text, and images to your timeline infographic
  5. Embellish your timeline infographic with colors, fonts, and decorative shapes
  6. Download and share your timeline infographic

Let’s see how each of these steps can help us create a timeline infographic. You can even check out timeline infographic templates, to see which one would work best for you! 

1. Create an outline for your timeline infographic

Before designing any new timeline infographic, I like to start with a simple outline that will help guide me through the whole process.

This step is crucial because the design of the timeline will be highly dependent on the amount of content you want to include. If you don’t know how much content you have to fit in the timeline, you might choose the wrong layout, and you’ll end up doing a ton of extra work.

There are four major components of a timeline infographic that should be detailed in the outline:

  1. Dates
  2. Descriptions
  3. Headers (optional)
  4. Images (optional)

create a timeline infographic

 

The idea behind a timeline is that you want to provide a bit of information about key events in time, so each event should have, at least, a specific date and a brief description.

Keep descriptions brief

Since a timeline should be a visual summary of a series of events, try to keep the descriptions pretty brief. I usually like to aim for less than 30 words per description, then try to spice it up with some visuals like icons or illustrations to make it visually exciting.

Keep in mind, too, that having the same amount of text for each event will make it easier to create a pleasing, symmetrical design.

So let’s say, for example, that I want to make a timeline infographic all about the history of popular social media platforms. I’d start by putting together an outline with three of those four essential elements: dates, headers, and brief descriptions.

create a timeline infographic

Find simple visuals

Then I’d find a simple visual, like an icon, to accompany each point. These visuals are what sets a timeline infographic apart from a plain old timeline. They draw the reader’s eye, add visual interest, and make the graphic easy to scan, without too much thought.

If you don’t have your own visuals ready to go, you can find some right in the Venngage editor. Just head over to the left panel and use the icon search or the photo search to find some fun visuals to go with your text:

create a timeline infographic

This quick outline must be completed in the very first step so that you can make smart design choices down the line.

2. Pick a layout for your timeline infographic

With an outline prepared, it is now time to select a layout! This is where you can start to make critical design choices based on your outline.

There are 3 common timeline infographic layouts:

  1. Vertical
  2. Horizontal
  3. Snake

create a timeline infographic

 

To choose the best layout for your infographic, you’ll want to consider two factors:

  1. The number of points in your outline
  2. The amount of text associated with each point (i.e. the length of your descriptions)

Some layouts are better for lengthy text, while others are suited to many points in time with less text. Let’s review the strengths and weaknesses of each type of timeline layout.

Vertical timeline infographic layout

The vertical layout is by far the most popular layout for timeline infographics. It comes in two main forms: centered and left-aligned.

Centered vertical timelines

The centered vertical timeline is my personal favorite. In this layout, the timeline runs right down the centre of the page, with branches coming off of alternate sides of the timeline:

create a timeline infographic

 

Its symmetry and simplicity makes it pleasing to look at and extremely easy to follow. Most people will automatically recognize it as a timeline without studying it for more than a second.

It’s also quite flexible; there’s plenty of room for long descriptions, and to add more points, you can simply extend the length of the page. Plus, it’s easy to add visuals to this type of layout.

Use a centered vertical layout when you have many points with a mixture of text and images.

create a timeline infographic

 

Left-aligned vertical timelines

Next, we have the other most popular timeline infographic layout: the left-aligned timeline. Instead of having branches come off of either side of the timeline, the line itself is aligned to the left of the page, and all of the content is placed to the right of the line.

Like this:

create a timeline infographic

 

The left-aligned vertical layout is great for text-heavy timeline, with few visuals and lots of sections.

I recommend the vertical layout, either centered or left-aligned, for most timeline infographics because it’s so flexible. It’s the easiest to create, edit, and adjust to all sorts of content.

create a timeline infographic

 

Horizontal timeline infographic layout

You might recognize the horizontal timeline layout from every presentation you’ve seen in the last decade. They seem to be a staple of presentation slide decks everywhere (like the one below):

create a timeline infographic

 

While they do work nicely on presentation slides, they’re not ideal for most infographics. They can only handle up to 6 or 7 points in time (on a letter size page) before they get too cramped to read.

If you’ve got less than 7 points and your descriptions are very brief, you can use a  horizontal layout.

create a timeline infographic

 

Otherwise, stick with a vertical or snake layout.

Snake timeline infographic layout

The final timeline layout you might want to use is the snake layout. Simply put, the snake layout winds across the page and looks like a snake.

The best use of a snake layout is for timelines with lots of points and very little text, like this one:

create a timeline infographic

Source

Snake layouts are the most space-efficient, which is helpful if you’ve got more than 10 points or so. But they only really work with very little text, so try to use them when you want to put the focus on the visuals:

create a timeline infographic

 

To sum up, here’s everything you need to know to choose the best layout for your timeline infographic:

  • Centered vertical layouts are best for timelines that mix text and visuals
  • Left-aligned vertical layouts are best for timelines with lengthy text
  • Horizontal layouts are appropriate for timelines with less than 7 points and very brief descriptions
  • Snake layouts are best for timelines with more than 10 points, lots of images, and very little text

3. Create the framework for your timeline

After you have decided on a layout, it’s time to create the actual timeline! I’m going to walk you through the process for how we created the template below from scratch, using Venngage. This is a pretty typical centered vertical timeline, so the steps I will touch on here should apply to most infographic timelines.

create a timeline infographic

 

Every timeline should be created around the same basic framework: a single line with regularly spaced branches or nodes. This might seem obvious, but it’s absolutely crucial.

First, start by selecting a vertical line from the “Lines & Borders” category of the icon library in the left toolbar. Center it and adjust it to run the length of the page, leaving room for a title at the top. This will form the backbone of your timeline.

Then, customize the styling of this line via the top toolbar. Use the line width dropdown to set the width of the main line to at least 2px. For this line, we used a 4px width.

Next, use the “Line Ending 1” and “Line Ending 2” dropdowns to add embellishments to each end of the line. We chose circles, but perpendicular lines and arrows would also be appropriate for most timelines.

Then, make sure to lock the timeline in place using the “Lock” button in the top toolbar. This simple step keeps you from accidentally moving the line while you add more elements.

create a timeline infographic

Finally, head back over to the “Lines & Borders in the icon library and add a horizontal line for each point in your outline. Use the grid to space them out regularly on alternating sides of the main timeline.

Oh, and here’s an extra tip to make your timeline creation process easier: turn on the “Grid” in the top toolbar. It comes in handy when you need to align many objects on the page.

create a timeline infographic

4. Add dates, text, and images to your timeline infographic

Now that you have the bare bones of your timeline set up, you can fill in the details. It’s time to add the content.

Start with the images, since they should be the focal point of the infographic. Drag in icons or photos from our built-in libraries, and align each image with its corresponding branch on the timeline.

Next, add the text from your outline. Select header, subheader, and body text boxes from the left toolbar menu and place them on the page, next to each branch. Fill in the header text boxes with the dates, add your header text to the subheader text boxes, and add your descriptions to the body text boxes.

create a timeline infographic

5. Embellish your timeline infographic with colors, fonts, and decorative shapes

All of the essentials are now in place, so you can focus on making the timeline design more visually interesting.

Start by picking a color scheme to spice things up a bit. Use the background color picker in the left toolbar to swap the background color, and the color picker in the top toolbar to change to colors of other elements.

create a timeline infographic

Notice how we’ve used the same colors for the same elements across the entire timeline? By sticking with a simple three-color scheme for this timeline we can create a clean, cohesive look. We use a bright-eye catching red to draw attention to the dates, and kept the background pretty neutral in a dark blue.

Next, let’s jazz up the style of our graphic by picking a font pairing with some character. Scroll through the font family options in the top toolbar to find 2-3 fonts that you like. Feel free to use bold, stylized fonts for your headers and dates, but stick with basic, easy to read fonts for your descriptions.

create a timeline infographic

Finally, add some basic shapes like circles and boxes around important elements (like icons and titles) to give the timeline more structure.

create a timeline infographic

By repeating the exact same rounded box throughout the design, we create a satisfying sense of rhythm that makes our design easier to understand. This technique is key for elevating particularly simple designs like this one:

create a timeline infographic

 

6. Download and share your timeline infographic

When you’ve finished customizing your timeline infographic with fun fonts, colors, and shapes, you’ll want to share it with the world.

With Venngage, you have the option to download every infographic in PNG or PDF format. If you want to embed links into your timeline, be sure to choose the interactive PDF option. Otherwise, high quality PNG is likely your best bet.

You’ve also got the option to embed your infographic directly in a webpage. Simply hit “Publish” to get your embed code.

create a timeline infographic

Conclusion

Timeline infographics are the perfect visuals for telling stories that your readers will enjoy and want to share with their friends. Plus, you can make them in 6 easy steps. So what are you waiting for?

 

More infographic design guides:

How to Make an Infographic in 5 Steps

How to Choose Fonts That Make (Not Break) Your Infographic

How to Pick Colors to Captivate Readers and Communicate Effectively

6 Ways to Use Infographic Icons Like a Pro



About Midori Nediger

Midori spreads visual communication tricks and tips as an Information Designer at Venngage. She’s particularly interested in helping people communicate complex information. Connect with her on LinkedIn and on Twitter @MNediger.