Using Timelines for Visual Storytelling

Books lined up on the library shelves

As a communications professional I see my work not just as copywriting, but ideally to tell stories through my writing. My storytelling can take many forms through the written word, including blog posts or social media, and even tactical media like press releases or fact sheets. But of course writing isn’t the only way to tell story, and as a visual storyteller I’ve created a number of infographics
and visualizations that intergrate data with images and text to help make complex stories more accessible. Not to mention my work as a film student writing and editing short stories in video.

Another kind of visualization that is helpful for telling narrative stories is a timeline, which spacially represents key events over time. In a timeline events can be as significant as a milestone/landmark developments which culminate from continuous iterative progress which is illustrated over time, or as simple as a tweet/status update that shows a conflict’s initiation/resolution. And like all narrative storytelling there are key elements like context/setting and esclating conflict which should be resolved by the end.

For example, here’s a story I made about the increase of stolen iPhones around New York City, including my own iPhone theft in July 2011, told in a timeline built using excerpts from social media and blog posts:

While this timeline isn’t strictly chronological (it’s split into parallel narratives from other cities around the world), it starts with a specific conflict (iPhone theft) in a setting (New York City), and concludes with examples of the conflict being resolved.

In the interest of better sharing my own professional (and personal) story, I’ve added a page of timelines which help tell my stories visually. The section includes a overall timeline of my life, professional developments, a list of blogs I’ve written for over the last 8 years, and a few of my favorite personal stories. Please take a look at my visual storytelling using these timelines, and feel free to let me know what you think in the comments of this blog post.