11 Replies Latest reply on Nov 9, 2018 9:24 AM by Michael Hesser

# How do YOU visualize TIME?

Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like bananas.

With that admittedly horribly pun out of the way, let's get down to business: How do YOU visualize TIME?

I've been working on a number of projects and I'm curious how others creatively conceptualize discrete values over time. Think of it as a tick-tock talk!

For example, I have a fun little view I use for showing PTO for employees. It's broken into a hierarchical structure so managers can easily locate their team.

• The location of each dot is reflective of the date of PTO
• The size of the dot represents the number of hours (from 2-8)
• The color represents the type of time off (we only have a few).
• Hovering shows detail in full.

I don't need to do much explaining for mangers to "get it" (which is a big win for me), but I'm always looking for something better. Here's a blurry snapshot:

What ideas do you have for graphing time?

What has been effective for you-- as far as accessibility and speed?

• ###### 1. Re: How do YOU visualize TIME?

Good afternoon Michael Hesser, okay?

I can attach dummy data, what you need?

• ###### 2. Re: How do YOU visualize TIME?

Hello! This is an open-ended question. I'm asking for thoughts on how other people visualize time in their vizzes....

I don't have a particular problem to solve, I'm looking more for inspiration!

2 of 2 people found this helpful
• ###### 3. Re: How do YOU visualize TIME?

This is a great question, and Viz Talk is the appropriate place for this type of discussion.

This is a Gantt chart I did showing what songs played from each of our studios for each of our radio networks. Each bar "chunk" begins at the time of day the song starts, and the length is the duration of the song. The color is an indicator of the data quality for that song.

I did a Tableau box-and-whisker plot for our HR department to show the distribution of how long each step in the hiring process takes, with a dot for each position. (Don't get me started on why some of these steps take so long!)

Then, the most obvious is just changes in metrics over time, with reference lines. The color of the line represents the dollar volume.

At least that gives a few more ideas. Looking forward to seeing others.

12 of 12 people found this helpful
• ###### 4. Re: How do YOU visualize TIME?

Thanks Bill Lyons -- and great vizzes!

And WOW!  Some time periods on your HR chart REALLY jump out! (And if I could digress: I'd love to compare HR's best guess vs. actual data!)

I created a graph a little similar to your third one, where PTO hours represented the thickness of the line.

When there is no PTO (0 or Null) there is just a very fine line; but as soon at the person takes PTO, it "pulses": widening and contracting, like a snake that had swallowed billiard *****!

1 of 1 people found this helpful
• ###### 5. Re: How do YOU visualize TIME?

FWIW, I think the HR chart looks bad because people fail to update the database at the time of the activity, then go back later to "correct it." GIGO...

1 of 1 people found this helpful
• ###### 6. Re: How do YOU visualize TIME?

Great topic, Michael!  I'm always up for getting inspiration!  : )  Nice contributions, as always, Bill.

• ###### 7. Re: How do YOU visualize TIME?

I personally don't often vary the width of a line based on a metric. The main reason is that it can obscure the meaning if you aren't careful. In the original version of the line chart in my previous post did vary the width of the line based on the dollar amount, but it did not add value, and actually detracted from understanding.

To illustrate this in an exaggerated fashion, interpret this chart:

What is the actual value for each of the dates?

Is the value for 4/1/2016 more, less, or the same as that on 2/1/2016?

It is difficult to answer these questions without studying it carefully, or drilling down. Requiring extra effort by the user usually means they won't bother, and will misinterpret it.

However, there are times when varying the line width fits the data perfectly. The example in the Tableau Samples, where the hurricane track lines width varied based on the intensity of the storm works great, because the more intense the storm, the larger it actually is, physically, and therefore the precise center of the storm is not as important because it covers a larger area.

Another example is an idea I have been toying with but haven't actually built yet, is to have a forecast line, with the width of the line varying based on the calculated forecast error within an accepted confidence interval. In other words, the forecast is not the precise center of the line, but anywhere within the thickness of that line.

I hope that makes sense. I'm not saying "don't do it." Just be careful.

2 of 2 people found this helpful
• ###### 8. Re: How do YOU visualize TIME?

Excellent points!

I used a line size metric to help emulate a time-off calendar for managers. This was a one-glance reference to help them determine if they would have coverage during specific days.

Since the "lines" were always on the horizontal for each employee, changes in variance were easier to determine.

As I review this, a heat map probably would have been more effective, and a heck of a lot easier to code!

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• ###### 9. Re: How do YOU visualize TIME?

This post has been immensely helpful! Really helps understand different viz we can use in different scenarios

I sometimes like to use Calendar view like below - useful for purposes of tracking daily activities on an aggregated level.

• ###### 10. Re: How do YOU visualize TIME?

I was watching Tableau's Dashboards for Insight and Impact presentation for The Big Book of Dashboards and they had an unusual idea for visualizing time: they showed several examples where they used COLOR to represent time, specifically:

One color represented a player's most recent soccer game...

Another color represented the last four games,,,

And other colors represented still older games.

Naturally, this is better for discrete, chronological events rather than continuous times, but it may still be a creative method to graphically represent time. Remember, also, that the use of a color means you'll probably need a key (which could mean a little more real estate on your dashboard is gobbled).

--Michael

• ###### 11. Re: How do YOU visualize TIME?

Bill Lyons : We got quite a bit of feedback on this, but I'm marking yours as correct because you provided so many novel visualizations and great descriptions. (It's also been out there forever )

I think it's fair to say that the biggest take-away is that there are MANY different ways to visualize time (discretely and continuously). There's never a need to be stuck in a rut.