Date of this Version


Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Details

Published version

Mitchell, M. (2016). More to reading images: Motivations underlying horizontal and vertical time-related graphics. International Journal of Literacies, 23(4), 29-53. Doi: 10.18848/2327-0136/CGP/v23i04/29-53

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© 2016 (individual papers), the author(s)

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


2327-0136 print 2327-266X online


This article describes major motivations underlying the designs of Western, multimodal horizontal and vertical time-related graphics. The work is important as it contributes to a meta-language of design; it demonstrates that the designs of time-related signs are not arbitrary but are built upon a range of interpersonal or social needs and perceptual and physical factors, and it provides ideas that instructors may use to teach different concepts of time. The research is qualitative and progresses by using examples to discuss how time perception, the linguistic representation of time, basic principles of time measurement, processes of reading and writing, perception of areas of the page or screen, and design constraints have motivated designs of time. The research also considers how the continua of given-new and ideal-real relate to these graphics. Examples were taken from scholarly texts, textbooks, encyclopedias, newspapers, magazines, calendars, planners, software applications, and websites. Timelines are described according to their purpose and by considering the symbols or marks within them, spaces between the symbols or marks, colors, orientations of the line of time, facings of symbols along the line, reference points, and scales. The results show that although time is strongly associated with the direction of writing along the horizontal, it may be reversed to suit different purposes. Designers may resort to vertical timelines if they need to fit information into a given area or if a timeline is too long to fit along the horizontal, if they need to follow reading order, if they need to demonstrate upward movement toward some ideal, or if they need to place time against a structure of reality so as to make the timeline more comprehensible. Designers and readers should take care in creating and reading upward moving timelines as upward movement can be construed as a movement toward goodness, even when that was not the intent of the design.



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