Sunday, 7 February 2010

A small technology timeline

This timeline developed by Mark Light (a graduate of the Lansdown Centre for Electronic Arts at Middlesex University) has a couple of interesting features.
  1. The timescale with slider at the bottom is non-linear, using different horizontal intervals of space for a given interval of time. This is common and generally necessary when dealing with a long historical aera since there is far more data for recent times than for the more distant past. But here this is flagged using colour. The user is alerted to the three different scales - a horizontal unit may represent 1000, 500 or 100 years - using shades of blue. Often designers in the interests of tidy uniformity obscure the different scales they use.
  2. Items in time have a relation to others. These relationships are made explicit using serpentine arcs inscribed between the nodes. There is a potential problem, visible in the illustration here, that where one arc touches or crosses another, it is not possible to discern which line belongs to which node. However, as used here, the arcs all convey roughly the same kind of relationship, so there is little need to see which line is which. 
Like many modern timelines and other interactive diagrams this one makes transitions between different states of the diagram as fluid as possible. In part this is just a current aesthetic, but it also seems to assist in maintaining the frame of reference so that the user sees newly displayed information in the context of what was on screen before.
The timeline is not a dead end. It is an interface to further information which appears below the timeline display and which the user can edit.

The timeline itself