Time-bound beings

I put myself in an unusual situation. I spend one week without clocks.

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH DESIGN?

Designers need to empathize with each individual’s perception and feelings and relate to their behavior, particular needs, and expectations. Time is the basis of human perception and the most prevalent societal concepts. Thus, designers need to develop a profound consciousness for time to meet these requirements. Mobile devices and immersive technologies like Augmented and Virtual Reality have emerging consequences on time perception and digital time displaying. Fleeting changes from external events are barely noticeable on displays or in immersive experiences. That makes orientation in time considerably complicated. Decay doesn’t exist in digital space, and a flood of colorful pictures and information superimposes the awareness for our natural rhythms. Therefore, UX designers obtain a pivotal role in developing responsible designs for digital products and services.

THESE ARE 8 INSIGHTS I HAD THIS WEEK.

1. I HAVE A BUILT-IN ALARM CLOCK

I imagined one of the biggest problems to be getting up in the morning without an alarm clock. Once the sun enters the room, the concentration of the sleep hormone melatonin declines in blood¹, and we start to wake up. To take advantage of this chemical mechanism, I opened the roller-blinds. The next day I woke up slowly and did not felt exhausted as usual. Right then, I realized that I have a built-in alarm clock that I can set using light.

2. MY TIME RHYTHM IS MOST LIKELY NOT MY NATURAL RHYTHM

I made five-time assumptions per day to collect some data about my daily rhythms and sleep-wake circles. After a few days, I got up later and went to bed later. These are the characteristics of a late chronotype. Thus, my physical processes typically start later in the day than of early chronotypes². Accordingly, our conception of time is learned and not innate. Our natural needs arranged themselves to clocks rather than to external changes, such as seasons and daytimes. Since we developed an independent lifestyle with cycles decoupled from nature, it is crucial to reflect on whether your rhythm is also your natural rhythm.

3. THERE IS NO 'TIME SENSE'

At night and in dimmer rooms, I obtained significantly inaccurate assumptions. The most challenging situations were when I worked in an office with a small window to the courtyard. I always had an urgent desire to keep an eye on the clock because I felt helpless to orientate myself in time. The strongest deteriorations in my estimations corresponded with exceedingly few external changes, such as variations in natural lighting or other surrounding events, for instance. The reason is that we aren’t able to perceive time directly, through something like a time-sense, but through altering symbols and signals of our environment.

4. BUILT NEW HABITS

In situations I felt disoriented, I developed short rituals to provide myself stability, like reading or drinking tea before going to bed. Repetition helped me to lower the resistance against practicing different abilities because I didn’t have to overcome myself each time. If I do not know the duration of waiting-situations, I can not hit on an activity with a suitable length for the unused amount of time.

5. TAKE BREAKS

Since we misuse clocks as control systems for productivity, we unlearned how to take breaks. Effectivity gives us the feeling to be able to control transience. In truth, time passes - well utilized or not. Even though it might feel like we are wasting time, it is crucial to take breaks because empty time ranges differentiate distinct time phases from each other. These differences in activity and passivity help us to create time spaces for contemplation.

6. FOCUS ON THE LONG TERM

Constant productivity often makes us get lost in a torrent of seeming significant tasks. We distract ourselves from thorough reflection. Even in waiting situations over a few minutes, we try to check off points from our to-do list. As a consequence, our short-term goals keep us from thinking about the long-term³. If I do not know the duration of waiting-situations, I can not hit on an activity with a suitable length for the unused amount of time. In empty time phases, I pondered thoroughly about my present feelings and needs. Additionally, I thought about future scenarios. Thus we will have to develop longer perspectives on our future if we want to change our current behavior.⁴

7. THERE ARE GOOD REASONS FOR CLOCKS

Along with taking trains and not accidentally catching a glimpse of a dial, adhering to appointments was a mere disaster. The first day I went to University, my professors and fellow students - all informed - had great fun observing me entering the lecture, having utterly no clue how late I am. When I had to keep a medical appointment, the limitations of the experiment became more than obvious. The reason is that temporal orientation with a time-measuring tool like a clock became an entrenched convention in western, modern societies during industrialization. This social synchronization is deeply rooted in our economic system. It is necessary for organizing fluent production chains. Hence, there are good reasons for clocks. Conversely, this enforced conformity is not suitable for each individual.

8. WE CAN RETURN TO OUR NATURAL RHYTHMS ONCE WE FOUND OUT HOW

The alienation of our time perception disassociates us from our feelings and our natural needs. Yet, we can return to our natural rhythms once we found out how. For me, the easiest way is attentively observing my environment and carefully listening to my body and my needs. As well as stepping out of my daily patterns from time to time to detect bad habits, I unconsciously got stuck in and recalling my rhythm.

Experiments like these prevent designers from assuming to know how the average human mind works. They help us to prevent ourselves from jumping to conclusions, to rethink our research approach, and particularly, in this case, to consider the everyday influence of time and temporality in future design works as well as our daily lives.