This is a free version of a lesson from Notion A-to-Z. The full course includes all lessons in a natural sequence, along with videos, duplicable demos, practical exercises, and practice questions for Notion’s certification exams.
When creating a database, Linked Database or view, you choose one of six visual formats, which affects the utility and aesthetic quality. Each format is best suited for particular types of information and interactivity, but they all support these functions:
- filtering and sorting items;
- selectively displaying and arrange properties;
- dragging items into, out of, and within the database;
- selecting multiple items to move or delete in bulk; and
- selecting multiple items to bulk-edit a property.
This lesson offers a sense when and how to use each format.
The Six Database Formats
The Table format is most familiar to users and most commonly used. Each column represents a property of the database, and each row is an item. Tables are widely versatile and well suited for all types of collections. They make it easy to view, edit and add items in bulk, and to summarize properties for all items in a view.
As with all formats, be sure to filter and sort items in your tables, as well as selectively display and order properties. With tables, also take care to adjust the width of each property to suit the contents.
Unless your table displays
Relation property with many values, you’ll likely want to enable
Wrap cells via the database’s
••• menu. This creates line breaks within cells to display their full contents rather than a single line that runs out of view.
To perform a calculation on the aggregated values of a property, hover over the area below the column and click
Calculate. That will display a variety of options for the property type.
This is particularly useful in an Expenses database, for example, where you can summarize the values within a currency-formatted
Number property. The sum will include only the view’s visible items, excluding any filtered items. That means you can quickly total expenses by category, month and other helpful parameters.
In the above view of our Tasks database, the Task property displays the total number of tasks via the
Count all option, while the Complete property calculates the
Percent checked. (Access a duplicable demo in Notion A-to-Z.)
The simple List format works best when you need to display few properties, if any, and make no edits without opening items as pages. Lists require less space than other formats, making them useful for views displaying many items. They also work nicely within columns.
Notes and meetings are commonly displayed as lists and sorted chronologically.
As with all formats, take care to filter and sort list items, and selectively display and arrange properties. The example above displays our tasks with their status and assignee, sorted by deadline. (Access a duplicable demo in Notion A-to-Z.)
Taking the time to populate icons for all list items creates a particularly nice aesthetic, as seen in The NBA — in Notion:
The Board format is Notion’s take on the traditional Kanban board. It groups items into columns by a
Person property, which you can specify by clicking
Group by within the database’s
Boards are useful for visualizing items in a pipeline, such as sales stages or project statuses, as well as distributing items among classifications, such as resource categories or task assignees.
Dragging an item to a new group, such as a sales stage or category, automatically updates its value for the grouping property.
In the example below, the board groups our tasks by status. (Access a duplicable demo in Notion A-to-Z.)
••• menu of any group, you can choose to
Hide it from the view or
Delete it from the database entirely. You can also drag groups to reorder them.
As with all formats, be sure to filter and sort items in your boards, as well as selectively display and order properties. Because boards display items as cards, you can also specify the size and preview, as explained later in this post.
Atop each group, a number displays the group’s card count. You can change this number to perform various calculations on the aggregated values of a specified property. To do so, click the number, choose a calculation, then select the property to aggregate and calculate.
For example, a database of sales opportunities might have a Value property—a
Number formatted as a currency. For each sales stage, a board could display the total or average value.
In the example above, the “Group by Assignee” view, displays the percentage of tasks completed for each assignee. (Access a duplicable demo in Notion A-to-Z.)
Like boards, the Gallery format displays items as cards, but in a unified mosaic rather than groups. This suits them well for databases where you want to present items with visual appeal and make them easy to open as pages rather than edit them from the gallery view.
Because text wrapping remains unsupported within cards, galleries work best when items have shorter
Titles, and when the properties you want to display are also short. They’re even better when you can naturally apply a cover image to your cards, which you’ll learn bout in Card Formatting section.
For these reasons, the Gallery format is a poor option for our Tasks database; instead, the example below displays the People database, sorted by last name, with the Email and Organization properties visible. Each person’s headshot serves as the
Card preview. Additionally, each person’s company is an item of the Organizations database, populated via a
Relation property. The logos are the icons of the related pages, which creates a nice aesthetic. (Access a duplicable demo in Notion A-to-Z.)
As always, be sure to filter and sort your gallery items, as well as selectively display and order properties.
Because galleries employ the card format, you can also choose a size and preview, as you’ll learn. In the example above, the cards are sized small, with the person’s headshot displayed as the preview.
The Calendar format displays database items as bars within a traditional monthly calendar. By default, Notion begins weeks on Sunday, but you can begin yours on Monday by visiting
Settings & Members →
Language & region.
Date property dictates the placement of each item on the calendar. Notion chooses that property be default, but you can select an alternative by opening the database’s
••• menu and clicking
Calendar by. When that property contains an
End date, the item’s bar will span the full period between dates. Dragging, expanding or minimizing an item automatically updates the value of its
Calendar by property. Clicking an item opens it as a page.
Calendar days offer little space for each item’s
Title and properties. Therefore, I recommend making the containing page full-width, or converting the calendar from an in-line database to its own page.
As with other formats, you can filter and sort items within a calendar, as well as selectively display properties. The example above displays each task with its assignee and status. (Access a duplicable demo in Notion A-to-Z.)
At the top-right of calendars, you’ll find arrows for jumping to the next or previous month. Between those arrows, you can click
Today to return to the current month.
Similar to calendars, timelines display database items as bars, but along a linear timeline. The bars are stacked horizontally as rows, with the horizontal position dictated by a
Date property. Notion chooses a
Date property by default, but you can choose an alternative by clicking
Timeline by in the database’s
Dragging, expanding or minimizing an item’s bar automatically updates the value of its
Date property. You can also click a bar to open the item as page.
From the dropdown menu at the top-right, the viewer can choose the scale of the perspective, from hourly to yearly. Adjacent to that dropdown, arrows allow the viewer to jump forward or backward in the timeline. Clicking
Today centers the current time.
When an item falls outside of the current perspective, you’ll see an arrow along the edge of its row pointing forward or backward in the timeline. Click any arrow to bring that item into view.
Your configured scale and position settings will affect first-time viewers, but users who have previously viewed a timeline will see their most recent perspective.
Below the database title, a double arrow lets you expand a table, with a row for each item in the timeline. Within this table, you can selectively display properties and summarize values, just like the standard Table format.
You can also toggle the table from the
Properties option within the database’s
••• menu. However, timeline tables are unable to be expanded when viewing the database within a toggle, as in the above example. To see the table, open the database as a full page via the two-way diagonal arrow adjacent to the
As always, be sure to filter and sort timelines. When it comes to displaying and arranging properties, you can customize both the bars and table via the
Properties option in the database’s
••• menu. Typically, you’ll want properties to display in one or the other—not both. That includes the
Title property, which Notion in at least one location, but you can choose to display it both the bar and table.
Unlike calendars, timelines arrange properties horizontally within bars, which often causes them to extend beyond the bar. Therefore, try to display shorter properties within the bar and reserve longer ones for the table.
The above example displays the Task (
Title) property within the bar, with Status and Responsible viewable in the table. (Access a duplicable demo in Notion A-to-Z.)
The quantity of timelines available in your workspace depends on your Notion plan:
- Personal and Personal Pro support three timelines.
- Team supports five timelines.
- Enterprise offers unlimited timelines.
Given all of the above characteristics of timelines, you want to use them selectively. They’re best suited for databases where:
- items span a duration, indicated by a
- you want to visualize your items chronologically while retaining the advantages of tables;
- you want to see many items in a single view (rather than segmented by month); and
- you want to display many properties.
“Sprints” found in many project management frameworks make an excellent example.
In database formats that display items as cards, including the Board and Gallery formats, you have the option to specify a size and preview of the cards. To do so, choose
Properties within the database’s
For the size, you can choose
Card preview adds a visualization to the top of each card. That can preview the textual content of the inner page, but most users choose to display an image, as demonstrated in the above Gallery section. You can source that image from three places:
- Page cover — In Notion, database items are pages, and pages have optional cover images. You can display the item’s cover image as its
- Files & media property — If the database includes a
Files & mediaproperty where you upload images, you can choose that property as the source for your
Card preview. The gallery above displays the Headshot property of the People database.
- Page content — If the inner body of your page contains an image, choosing
Page contentwill use that image as the
Card preview image is in place, you can reposition it by hovering over the item, clicking
Reposition, then dragging.
Within the database’s
••• menu, then
Fit image will ensure the entire image displays in the
Card preview, with whitespace filling unoccupied areas. Otherwise, Notion crops the image to fill the
Card preview area.
If you hit any snags as you experiment with the various database formats, feel free to tweet @WilliamNutt.