How to Create a Timeline Infographic in 5 Easy Steps

Timeline infographics are everywhere. These days, it seems like everybody and their brother has one, but no one is telling you how to create one. Does that sound about right? Well, you’re in luck. I’m going to share a five-step process for creating your own timeline infographic.

What are the Basics?

First, let’s take a step back and get a better understanding of timeline infographics.
We all know that viewers process concise visual stories faster than textual information. If the brilliance of an infographic is in its simplicity, then a timeline infographic is one of the best ways to take the viewer on a journey over a chronological period of time by summarizing individual events into bite-size chunks.
Some of the different types of timeline infographics include:
  • Project Milestones
  • Workflow
  • Agenda
  • Historical
  • Product or Company Evolution
  • Biographical or Work Experience
Now that we're on the same page, let's dive into the five-step process for creating a timeline infographic:

Step 1: Conduct Research and Topic Brainstorming

Creating a compelling visual story that makes the journey come to life for the viewer requires some upfront research and topic brainstorming to see what’s already out there before jumping into the digital space.
To brainstorm your topic ideas, you can ask yourself some questions:
  • What is the goal or desired result of your timeline infographic? Is it for information or sales? Knowing this will help you come up with a broad topic.
  • What's your general approach to the topic? For example, will it have a historical or biographical angle?
  • Who is the audience and what would make the topic more interesting to them?
  • What is the objective and what is the core message you’re trying to send?
  • What question does the timeline infographic answer for the viewer?
  • What problem does the timeline infographic solve for the viewer?
Once you have a broad topic idea figured out, you should be ready to move into the planning and organizing stage.

Step 2: Create an Outline

It may seem like extra work, but I encourage you to create an outline if you want the design process to go smoothly. The goal is to take your broad topic idea and distill it down to the bare essentials. What you include in an outline will vary depending on the kind of timeline infographic you are wanting to create. A few things should be addressed:

Narrow Your Topic Focus

Now that you’ve on your goal, you should be able to narrow your focus down to a particular topic. Remember, viewers don’t need to know every single little detail, so try focusing on answering their questions or solving their problems.

Content

Since we are working with a timeline, it is important to determine the journey that will be followed and how the content will be presented and organized. Begin by writing notes about content ideas and making a list of events and dates. As you move through the journey, it gets easier to explain the rest of the timeline bit by bit. Don’t forget to think about descriptive titles and introductory text as these will provide context about the topic and give readers a sense of what information will be presented in the timeline infographic.

Design Style

Finally, it’s time to think about design styles, fonts, color palette, and potential graphic symbols that would work well to help tell the story of your timeline infographic. Some example design styles include minimalist, abstract, vintage, hand-drawn, typographic, flat, skeuomorphic, etc. Don’t be afraid to branch out and think about trying something new!

Medium and Software

Once you’ve determined a general design style, it is important to decide on how and where the timeline infographic will eventually be presented, its document size, and the delivery method. From there, you’ll have a better idea of what software you will use to create your file. For creating and editing, you have many choices to choose from such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Powerpoint, or Keynote. If you’re going to purchase a template to start with, there are plenty available on Creative Market that come in a variety of formats.

Step 3: Sketch Out a Rough Wireframe

As an old-school Creative Director, I’ve found that sketching a rough “skeleton” wireframe on paper allows you to quickly translate your written outlined ideas into a tangible structure and helps you discover potential layouts, issues, and solutions early. Remember, even Leonardo Da Vinci had to do some sketching before he started creating his inventions.
If you’re not sure where to start when sketching a wireframe, consider the following:
  • Where is the timeline’s starting point?
  • Will this be a horizontal or vertical layout?
  • How will the sections be laid out?
  • Where will you place a title and intro text?
  • How will things logically flow into one another and what technique will be used to show flow? Solid lines, dotted lines, arrows… etc.
  • Where will you place dates, subheads, and text descriptions?
  • What is the visual hierarchy for dates vs. subheads?
  • Where will illustrations, icons, or graphics be placed?
  • Will there be any other design elements?

Step 4: Choose an Infographic Template

I can’t even imagine how psyched you are to get to this point. If you followed Steps 1-3, you are going to be better equipped to choose the right template in Creative Market that will work for your project.
One thing is for certain: even if you are a great designer, pre-existing templates can help take out the guesswork of producing a timeline infographic. When browsing for templates, keep in mind that everything is customizable, so don’t pass over the perfect template just because the colors or design style isn’t right. Consider combining different templates and graphical elements to fit your topic and content best. Don’t forget to check the template’s file format and whether or not the text is editable. If you need to edit graphic elements, make sure they are made as vector shapes and not rasters.
Here are a few Creative Market timeline infographic templates that look great, would work in various situations and will knock people’s socks off:

Hand-Drawn Timeline Infographic Layout

If you’re looking for a template with lots of options and support for various software, this hand-drawn template is a great place to start. Plus, it allows you to transition from your wireframe sketch into a finished timeline infographic pretty easily.

Vertical Timeline Infographic Layout

The vertical layout is a popular layout for timeline infographics for its ease of transition into a long scrolling website layout. Most people will automatically recognize it as a timeline without studying it for more than a second. It’s also very flexible and allows for longer text descriptions.
Horizontal Timeline Infographic Layout

Horizontal layouts are popular and used frequently in presentations, slideshows, and print materials. If you’ve got just a few events or milestones with brief text descriptions like a project timeline, you can easily use a horizontal layout.

Snake Timeline Infographic Layout

Snake layouts uniquely wind across the page and are the most space-efficient, which is helpful if you’ve got a lot of events with a small number of text descriptions.

Step 5: Design and Refine
So far, most of the work you’ve been doing has been focused on researching, planning, sketching, and finding the right template. But that’s not why you decided to create a timeline infographic, is it? Now that you’ve made a decision and downloaded your timeline infographic template, how do you get creative with it?

Rework the Layout

With your wireframe sketch as a reference, you’re going to be able to quickly edit the template’s layout and make embellishments with your colors and fonts. Don’t forget to spend time ensuring there is a visual balance that will allow elements to flow together well. Symmetrical balance is when each side of the composition has equal weight. Asymmetrical balance is more natural and less uniform than a symmetrical composition. Make sure your design fits one direction or the other.

Edit and Proofread the Content

From your outline, you should be able to start adding titles, subheads, and descriptive text that summarizes each step in the timeline and reinforce the story being told.

Gather Additional Graphical Elements

It’s not a huge shocker, but now you’re ready to gather any additional icons, illustrations, images, decorative shapes, and other graphical design elements that you’ll want to include in your timeline infographic to give it more personalization and help tell the story.

Refine the Color Palette

Now that you have the template as a guide, you can refine the color palette so that they work well with your defined design style from the outline.

Enhance the Typography

The best timeline infographics have easily readable and visually impactful typography. Previously, you created an outline and determined the medium in which the timeline infographic would be received, so make sure the fonts will be easily readable in that space. Also, remember that the viewer’s eye has to start somewhere, so make sure a visual hierarchy is well-established to explain your information anyplace the graphics can’t.

Add Your Logo, Website URL, and Call-to-Action

Underneath that sparkly new design, there must also be a compelling incentive, logo, and website address if you’re using it to advertise yourself or a business. Without a call-to-action, you might as well cue the sad violin music, because your audience won’t know what next steps you want them to take.

It’s Time to Export, Share, and Educate.

And there you have it—now you know how easy it is to make a timeline infographic that you can go and shout about to everybody and their brother. Make sure you closely follow the specifications wherever you decide to post your shiny new timeline infographic. And don’t forget to make it easy-as-pie for readers to share your timeline infographic with others on social media. We’d love to see what you come up with, so take a moment to also share with the Creative Market community. Now go get ’em!

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If you still need more timeline infographic design inspiration, you can choose from hundreds of templates available on Creative Market.

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