Time and Graphic Design

Inspiration and learning opportunities are found where fields or disciplines overlap. Many aspects of filmmaking are connected to graphic design. For instance, a long established technique in film is the establishing shot. An exterior of a building is shown followed by the camera cutting to an interior shot. Our brains tell us the interior is the inside of that specific building, even though we have no real evidence of that. We routinely use similar juxtapositions of images to create new meaning in graphic design.


Film is a time-based medium. Conveying a sense of time and change in design can be a challenge. What kinds of strategies and techniques can designers use to convey a sense of time? Designers do not need to look far to find inspiration. Sequential art lies between graphic design and filmmaking and is concerned with exactly the notion of conveying time. Fine art, comics, graphic novels, have been portraying the passage of time with a sequence of images for centuries. A quick history of sequential art primer: Comicattack

Examples of sequential techniques applied to graphic design are challenging to find. For example on one of my favorite website, typo/graphic posters only one out of two or three hundred examples could be argued to use the technique. Further clouding the issue is subjectivity. Sometimes it is difficult to understand the designers intent. Is transformation the same as time?


Do any of these images convey a sense a time?


Graphic design pieces often have a sense of movement, but implied movement is different than time. Once you settle on a collection of artifacts that do indeed attempt to convey time there seem to be two prevalent strategies.

Linear Sequence

The first is the traditional comic form of linear sequence. Which itself breaks down into two strategies, with or without frames.



Layered Sequence

The second prevalent technique to convey time is overlapping the sequences. This also breaks down into two major groups based on the amount of time conveyed. Blurry images intended to mimic very short periods of time and more discrete overlaps intended to describe minutes or even hours. The best examples of the latter I find in fine art, not graphic design, but the technique seems easily translated.



The manipulation and representation of time is an underutilized strategy in graphic design, and with the advent of motion graphics, I think it is destined to remain so. Keep in mind the possibilities. A design need not be a snapshot, a frozen moment of time. A single designed page can represent seconds, minutes or longer. Consider adding time to your toolbox.