Getting People Where They Want To Go

Lab Reports, Timelines
Know before you go (Photo: M Kelly)

Traveling with Confidence

As tempting as the urge to wander aimlessly may be at times, most travelers begin a journey — down the street or across the country — visualizing and organizing it. Some of this is done in our minds, some of it jotted on paper or in a note-taking app. Where will we end up? When will we arrive? What connections or decisions do we make to get there? What can we expect along the way?

Ideally, as one moves to make the vision a reality, they will have visual aids that assist in this process. The Going Places timeline created in this lab presents a small selection of notable or historic visualizations toward that end; designs that aimed to provide clarity in charting one’s course, in space and/or time. As evidenced by the few examples exhibited and the decisions made, it aims to make its own connections and shows a different kind of journey; that of the evolution of transportation-focused infographics.

Tracks and Cars

To create this visualization, I primarily used the materials provided at the start of the lab, with the base structure created by Knight Lab’s Timeline JS, which provided the Google Sheet template below to populate the timeline.

Behind the scenes

The main jumping off point for content came from RJ Andrews’ Map of Firsts: An Interactive Timeline of the Most Iconic Infographics, which provides a convenient, amiable tour through its subject.

While I knew several of the items that were selected from there, a couple were new to me, and I then completed the limited set with my own knowledge of a few other pieces that might not have been firsts, but are certainly iconic. Corresponding imagery and supporting data then came from web-based sources, including Andrews’ graphic.

Finding the Route

The generation and publishing of the timeline was rather direct, if a bit more confusing due to recent issues with Google’s spreadsheet access server. I followed the prescribed steps of publishing on the Knight Lab site, and with minimal trial and error had a working preview that I could review while populating the spreadsheet.

From a content standpoint, the start was admittedly a bit muddled, with a fair amount of jumping around from topic to topic before landing on transportation. Paths were plotted and then discarded, with minimal planning before diving into the actual visualization. Finally, the basic thread was established using the spreadsheet as an organizing tool. Once a sufficient number of entries were selected and placed in order, supporting data was collected and input, with each link and entry tested as I proceeded.

As the timeline and narrative took form, I decided to use two optional columns of the spreadsheet to provide more context within the timeline. The first, “Group”, allowed me to establish connections for the viewer between timeline entries, such as the two train schedules. The second, “Background”, allowed me to insert images representing those who might use the graphics, where they might have been used, those who had developed them, and evolutions from them.

Local color in the title page

End of the line… for now

The resulting timeline from the lab remains a kind of work in progress, though more the kind that is built upon, not completed itself. It is finding its place and hinting at the strengths of the tool, but is really just a start.

Moving Forward

Any project is also a journey, albeit one where the destination is not so definitively prescribed. Just as this report started with discussion of plotting out that journey ahead of time, I am used to doing more ideating, planning and sketching on a project before building it. When I consider the visualization of almost anything, there is a stage that entails figuring it out on paper, a process evident on my bookshelf in Infographic Designers’ Sketchbooks by Steven Heller and Rick Landers.

With that in mind, I see two different ways of thinking about next steps, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

For this timeline in particular: Were I to move forward in developing this further, additional steps would include expansion and refinement. There are gaps in the timeline (most notably the 18th Century) and I would want to fill those in from a research standpoint, while also working to tell a more cohesive story about the connections and developments using the Group and Background columns mentioned above. One example I kept thinking of was the further influence of the Sergev / Marey / Ibry schedules on later work by Inge Druckrey and Edward Tufte. Indeed, these graphic schedules could constitute their own timeline.

For my process in general: As mentioned, this was a different way of working for me, especially having done very focused work with expressed purpose for some time as a professional now. This was more an exploration of the tools and an attempt to become familiar with a certain kind of visualizing and exploration that happens within the tool itself. (I expect this to be even more pronounced as other applications and tools are explored in this course.) It was also a more limited timeframe, which underscores the need to establish efficient methods of working with new tools.

In the end, if I were to do this over again, I would reallocate time in my initial stage of development and exploration, stressing the content a little less and understanding the possibilities of the software a bit more before moving forward. With a better sense of that, I might begin to sketch more effectively and efficiently within the program, even as I explored the many options for content and context.