PowerPoint Animated Infographics – Timelines


Infographics are “graphic visual representations of information… intended to present information quickly and clearly. They can improve cognition by utilizing graphics to enhance the human visual system’s ability to see patterns and trends,” according to Wikipedia.

Infographics are often used in business to present information, trends or relationships that are favorable to the company’s pitch, generally educating customers or establishing context for a discussion.

Typically, infographics seem to be print-oriented; that is, they are designed as if they were to be presented statically on an oddly-shaped sheet of paper. Here are some examples:


In a web or presentation context, reading this kind of infographic requires considerable zooming and panning.  I have always thought that an interactive or scripted video is a much better way to present infographics. And, of course, PowerPoint can be used to create animated infographics. (Followers of Professor Tufte, please excuse the blasphemy.)

Infographics is a broad subject; I don’t propose to cover the entire field or pontificate on information graphics design and technique. Rather, I want to show you how to create video/interactive versions of common infographic styles.

To start with, consider “timelines.” This kind of infographic is used, for example, to show milestones in a historical context or to show sequential steps in a procedure. A video form can be interactive, allowing the reader to browse the information as needed, or scripted, presenting the information in a particular order, perhaps with an audio narration.

For this post, I’ll create a scripted version, starting with an overview of the timeline followed by sequential exposure of the milestones. Also, I will use a simple graphical model to represent a five step timeline rather than a fully developed infographic (I’ll try that in a later post). Here’s what I’m shooting for:

Here are some notes:

  • The overall timeline is shown first, followed by individual milestones with details, in order.
  • The overview would label each milestone  – perhaps with a date and/or title (first long distance electrical telegraph line,  1843).
  • Each milestone view would add detail and additional graphics (e.g., Samuel Morse, Morse’s biography, portrait, map, etc.). These can be exposed (animated) as needed to help comprehension.

The opening zoom effect is created combining Grow and motion path effects as I described in my two posts on “prezi-style” PowerPoint: here and here. By the way, this is a good application for prezi, if you can tolerate its idiosyncrasies.

Here are the details of the opening effect:

  • The timeline model  is a simple combination of Ovals (milestones) and a Rectangle. I want the result of the zoom to have the first milestone enlarged and centered on the slide space, along with the “line” leading to the next milestone. I chose an enlargement of 300%. Since the text may not automatically resize the way you want it to, adjust the font size manually as needed. Here’s what the slide should look like after the zoom:


  • I used a “transition slide” between the first slide and the first milestone slide to implement the effect. I started by duplicating the first slide, making sure Drawing Guides are set to define the center of the timeline overview object.
  • I will apply a Grow/Shrink effect With a motion path to the timeline to create the transition. I need a “target object” to help get the motion path right.
  • To make the “target,” duplicate the object on the result slide (the enlarged milestone). For clarity, remove the fills and set the outlines to red:


  • Now, add “crosshairs”to the first and third (center) milestones. These are just lines drawn horizontally and vertically on each circle and letting the lines “stick” to the appropriate 4 points on the circle. This is what I mean:


  • Now move this target object to the transition slide so that the number one milestone is centered on the slide over the timeline object. (use the Drawing Guides to accomplish this). The target may not snap to this position; use nudges (arrow keys) to carefully position the target object (hold down Alt with the arrow keys if needed).
  • Here’s what the transition slide should look like; the target represents the desired position and size of the “zoomed” milestone:


  • Select the timeline overview object and apply a Right motion path, Carefully extend the motion path to the center of the target object (marked by the crosshairs on the third milestone). Add a Grow/Shrink 300% effect to the overview object With the motion path. Here’s a closeup of the slide showing the motion path:


  • Set the Smooth Start/End to zero for the motion path. You can experiment with other values to change the zoom effect.
  • Set the first animation on the transition slide to Start After Previous. Set the slide transition to None and Advance Slide to After 0:0:0 (this assures that the transition to the milestone slide will occur immediately after the animations).  By the way, this replaces the poor image that results from the Grow animation.
  • The slide order should be overview, transition, first milestone detail. Test the result to assure that the transition is smooth. You may have to adjust the motion path or the milestone object position.
  • Add animations to the milestone detail slide as needed.

The transitions to the subsequent milestones are Dynamic Content/Pans; this kind of transition keeps the objects on the slide Layout unchaged while applying the the transition to the slide “content “.  A special slide Layout containing the title line must be created; I covered the details in a post on transitions.

Make sure that the slide transitions and animations are timed appropriately and use File/Export/Create a Video to, well, create the video version. I use Internet Quality.

A final note: I have created a “scripted” infographic using video. An interactive version that would allow the reader to browse the timeline would require an interactive medium (e.g., Flash). I will experiment with this in a later post.

As usual, If you want a free copy of the timeline PowerPoint file, use the form below. Double check your email address or you may not get your file.

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