Design

Zooming in on the Timeline

Oct 16, 2014

In the early stages of building Cushion, everything was based upon a year-long timeline view. With one look, you could see a quick and easy-to-digest glimpse of your year. When are you next available? Where do you have pockets of time to fit another project? Wow—that project really took that long? After living with this scale for a while, I wondered what I could do with a more magnified view.

2014-10-16-timeline-data

If we zoom in to a specific month on the timeline, we begin to give more meaning to the data. All of a sudden, a 4-day project that was just a blip on the year timeline expands to represent the true weight of those four full days. Zoomed out, it’s easy to see little difference between two lengths of time that are drastically different on the day-to-day scale, like 2 weeks versus 3 weeks, but in a month view, this is huge!

I started to think of ways to actually zoom into the timeline. Of course, the line segments would scale horizontally, but does it really need to scale proportionally on the vertical end as well?—I don’t think so. In my eyes, it looks much better this way and maintains the same timeline height as the year view—allowing the same amount of information to be seen underneath without a jarring effect on the user.

2014-10-16-timeline-overflow

When I first built the timeline view, I added a project that spanned two years and noticed a bug. With the way I coded the view, the knocked-out background of the timeline didn’t expand to account for the line segment. Instead, the line segment ran off the edge of the background, reaching the edge of the window. This wasn’t the intended behavior, but I immediately fell in love with it. The knocked-out background created a distinct boundary to the timeline, but didn’t hide any information beyond this boundary.

Returning to the zoom, this undocumented feature became the perfect tie of consistency between the two scales. When you switch between month and year views, the boundary doesn’t move a pixel.

The problem now was that the timeline labels for the year view, represented by months, needed to be replaced with days in order to be relevant to the new context. However, since I still wanted a dead-simple way to move from month to month, I didn’t want to get rid of the month labels. I went down a dark hole of bad designs, like a second row of labels that pushed the month labels down. It was a awful.

Then, I considered the top of the timeline. At first, I discounted this idea because I just assumed it would clutter the UI. I gave it a shot, though. Sometimes, it’s important to explore directions that you would typically disregard just to say that you tried them. Surprisingly, this direction had legs. It wasn’t perfect at first, but I knew something was there if I just chiseled deep enough.

2014-10-16-timeline-month-view

Instead of mimicking the same label design as the months, which represented spans of time, I centered the “tick” to point to the given day. And, because projects don’t factor time of day (yet), I centered the segment dots on each day block, rather than anchoring to an edge. Finally, to better separate each day, I added a slightly greyed background to the even days.

Now, all of this would look great on its own, but the transition of switching between the views should look even better. Luckily, each spot I wanted to animate was as easy as adding a CSS3 transition. The line segments scale based on the number of days in the timeline to the number of days in the selected month, the month labels fade in and pan up from behind the timeline, and the even day backgrounds simply fade in.

Scaling the line segments was the trickiest part, not because of the resizing, but because of the origin point from where to resize. Everything in the timeline is positioned and scaled based on a percentage of its day in the timeline compared to the total days in the timeline. For example, February 1st on a year timeline is located at 8.767%. I chose this route because I wanted the timeline to be able to scale down properly, if Cushion were to be responsive. Fortunately, it made my life so much easier with timeline zooming, too. Instead of scaling each line segement individually, I just need to scale the entire timeline and pan.

The origin point is crucial because if you scale the timeline while panning it and not centering the origin point, the timeline appears to pan before scaling. At first, I thought this was just a side effect of easing two attributes, but even when transitioned linearly, it didn’t look right. Luckily, centering the origin point was a non-issue, so everything came together in the end without needing to include JS for the animation.

I couldn’t be happier with my first stab at timeline zooming. Not only because it turned out well, but also because it opens up the possibility of a few other features I want to implement. The first is simply an in-between view for zooming in on a quarter of the year. The other feature, however, is much more involved. I’ll save it for another post.

If you’re interested in participating in the paid beta, send me your email on Twitter and I’ll send you an invite.

Share this on Twitter or Facebook

Archive

  1. Restructuring an Evolving App: Part 1
    Design
  2. My Typical Week as a Founder
    Story
  3. Building Components in a Sandbox
    Dev
  4. Reactive Time with Vue.js
    Dev
  5. Visualizing Daylight Saving Time
    Dev
  6. Recording Screencast GIFs
    Dev
  7. Writing a Job Listing
    Story
  8. Using Feature Flags to Run Betas
    Dev
  9. Our First Company Lunch
    Story
  10. How to embed Vue.js & Vuex inside an AngularJS app... wait what?
    Dev
  11. Funding Cushion
    Story
  12. Hiring a Team of Freelancers
    Story
  13. Taking a Real Break From Work
    Story
  14. Slack as a Notification Center
    Dev
  15. Document Your Features
    Story
  16. 300
    Story
  17. Vacations
    Design
  18. Offering Discounts
    Design
  19. Waves of Traffic
    Story
  20. Less Blogging, More Journaling
    Story
  21. Retention Through Useful Features
    Design
  22. The Onboarding Checklist
    Design
  23. Spreading the Word
    Story
  24. From Beta to Launch - The Subdomain
    Dev
  25. From Beta to Launch - Sign up
    Design
  26. From Beta to Launch - Messaging
    Design
  27. Launch
    Story
  28. Authenticating with 3rd Party Services
    Dev
  29. Intro to Integrations
    Design
  30. Inspiration vs Imitation
    Story
  31. The Emotional Rollercoaster
    Story
  32. Designing Project Blocks
    Design
  33. Everything in Increments
    Story
  34. Deleting Your Account
    Design
  35. Designing the Subscription Page
    Design
  36. Rewriting the Timeline
    Dev
  37. Restructuring the Individual Project Page
    Design
  38. Project Blocks
    Story
  39. Redesigning the Homepage
    Design
  40. Multiple Timelines
    Design
  41. Archiving and Estimate Differences
    Design
  42. Multiple Financial Goals
    Design
  43. Zooming in on the Timeline
    Design
  44. Currency
    Dev
  45. Preferences, Accounts, and a Typeface Change
    Design
  46. Sending Out the First Email
    Story
  47. Currency Inputs, Notifications, and Invoice Nets
    Design
  48. Dots and Lines
    Design
  49. Calculating in the Database and Revealing Tendencies
    Dev
  50. Improved Form UX
    Design
  51. Cushion is Online
    Story
  52. Schedule Timeline Patterns
    Design
  53. A Slimmer Schedule Timeline
    Design
  54. The Schedule Timeline
    Design
  55. Plugging in Real Data for the First Time
    Design
  56. Transitions and Project Lists
    Design
  57. Death to Modals
    Design
  58. The Individual Project Page
    Design
  59. Estimated Incomes and Talks with Other Freelancers
    Story
  60. Statuses to Lists and the Paid Beta
    Story
  61. The Timeline
    Story
  62. Invoice Terminology
    Dev
  63. Modal Forms
    Dev
  64. Wiring the Backend to the Frontend
    Dev
  65. Balancing Design and Dev
    Story
  66. Timecop, Monocle, and Vagrant
    Dev
  67. Going with Ruby and Sinatra
    Dev
  68. Ditching local-first and trying out Node.js
    Dev
  69. Switching to AngularJS
    Dev
  70. Building the Table with Vue.js
    Dev
  71. Clients, Projects, and Invoices
    Dev
  72. Introduction
    Story

Running Costs

Take a close look at the costs that go into running a web app and why we use specific services.

View the Costs

How It’s Made

Follow along with the journal for insight into the overall experience of building an app.

Read the Journal