The trend line is amazing. It shows peaks and troughs and trends. But if you only ever use trendlines to show time, you are missing insights in your data. What’s the best way to show time in visualisation? I cannot answer that: it depends on your data, the story you want to tell, your audience, and many other things.
At the Tableau Conference in Las Vegas, I discussed many different ways of visualising time. This post contains links and resources from the session.
A history of the trend line
Someone invented the trend line. We forget that even the most common chart types were still ideas waiting to be thought of at some stage in the past. Here are the milestones I highlight in my talk
- 1493: People have been making chronological charts for centuries. I love the examples from Hartmann Schendel’s Nuremberg Chronicle, published in this year
- 1753: Jacques Barbeu Dubourg makes a chart with a fixed x-axis. Unfortunately, his chart is 54ft long! He invents a really cool scroller to deal with this problem
- 1765: Joseph Priestley published the ground-breaking Chart of Biography.
- 1776: William Playfair makes the statistical line chart.
For more reading, I wholly recommend Cartographies of Time, an amazing book about the history of the timeline.
6 new ways to visualize time
- Stephen Few has a great paper on them: “An introduction to cycle plots”
- I wrote a blog post about cycle plots in Tableau.
- I also looked at the multi-line version in detail.
- How to make a slope chart (ad-hoc and dynamic) in Tableau
- Andy Kirk and Cole Nussbaumer have both written in depth about slope charts.
Highlight tables and small multiples
- Here’s a great example from Andy Kriebel
- There are some good tutorials on highlight tables (for example from Interworks and The Information Lab). Just use Time dimensions for the Rows and Column shelves.
- Incorporating maps is not hard. Check out Ben Jones’ examples.
- Look at the “Common Baseline” example on this page about table calculations.
- The dashboard of my own which I featured, based on US Road Fatalities, was comeprehensively described and deconstructed in my “Design Month” series of posts in 2014.
- I wrote about a similar topic for the Huffington Post, “New ways to see time.” It has some other examples.