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Design with Time in Mind - EuroIA 2013


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From Stonehenge’s summer solstice to medieval genealogical charts and from grandfather to atomic clocks, Europe has a long history of building tools to keep track of and organise time. With the rise of social networks and the always-online capability of mobile phones, tracking and organising time plays a bigger role than ever. Facebook and Twitter pull us more and more away from the past and the future into a continuous present. Should we stay in the eternal now or do we need new tools for a longer time perspective?

How to successfully design for organising time is the question I will answer in my presentation. I will do this first by understanding the different ways people perceive time, second by analysing the different design solutions available for organising time, and finally by discussing a series of case studies that all have their own unique approaches to addressing past, present and future.

People experience time in different ways, some live surrounded by memories of the past, others are obsessed by accomplishing goals in the future. I will address some interesting findings from the field of time psychology, specifically, the time perspective inventory developed by psychologist Philip Zimbardo. His way of organising our attitudes to time around six variables is a great framework for a time-centred design project.

Over the last three millennia many useful ways of measuring and representing time have been developed. I will present a framework for understanding these different tools as design patterns. I will then demonstrate their practical uses for designing with time.

To show how an understanding of time perspective and design patterns can be used to structure and design a project, I will discuss several cases such as Lanyrd, Facebook,Timehop and to demonstrate how different approaches to working with time lead to very different outcomes.

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Design with Time in Mind - EuroIA 2013

  1. 1. Design with time in mind Sjors Timmer, EuroIA 2013
  2. 2. If you look at Twitter on iOS7 Facebook on iOS7 If you look at the recent rise of mobile companies, like Twitter, Facebook
  3. 3. Or Instagram on iOS7 Snapchat on iOS7 Instagram and especially SnapChat than it cannot have escaped you that they all have a similar approach to time. They show you the last hour, minutes or even seconds and they are brilliant at it. When you look around you at conferences, in restaurants in busses and in bed, everywhere you find people forever refreshing their feed, forever sucked into the eternal now
  4. 4. We’re great at building tools for the now, but what about tools for working with the future?
  5. 5. 1. Time artefacts 2. Time in mind 3. Time in digital
  6. 6. 1. Time artefacts
  7. 7. e further we look into the future Present Time Future
  8. 8. Degree of uncertainty e higher the degree of uncertainty Present Time Future The problem is that the further we try to think ahead the more uncertain events become
  9. 9. Cone of uncertainty Present Time Degree of uncertainty Future This is what futurists call the cone of uncertainty, meaning that the further ahead we look the more scenarios become possible. This of-course can be good or bad depending on if you want change or continuity
  10. 10. We build “designer environments” in which human reason is able to far outstrip the computational ambit of the unaugmented biological brain. - Andy Clark in Being ere What we need to think with time and uncertainty is a system to think in. It’s an example of what Andy Clark, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh calls designer environments, an arrangement of the outside world that allows us to be a lot smarter than we could if we would rely on our brain alone
  11. 11. Historic design challenges — Priests — Emperors — Popes — Kings — Scientists This history of making designer environments for time started long ago. For centuries people have devoted their time to struggle with design challenges at hand
  12. 12. Stonehenge How might we make sense of the sun, the moon, the seasons and the years? What can inform us about the right time for sowing and harvesting? For the early humans time was very much connected with the earth and the heavens. Priests built the first mapping of the months, seasons and years based on the moon, sun and stars. The amazing alignment of stonehenge to the mid summer and mid winter sun shows the outstanding job they did.
  13. 13. Fasti Antiates Maiores Fasti Antiates Maiores (ca. 60 BC), a Roman calendar from before the Julian reform, with the seventh and eighth months still named Quintilis ("QVI") and Sextilis ("SEX"), and with a intercalary month, this month meant to fix the year became a mess because it was up to the emperor to decide when it came. Julius Caesar set out to fix the mess and was rewarded with the renaming of Quintilis is his honour
  14. 14. Julian Calendar In the 1500 years many small improvements were made by monk/scholars. But with the Zodiac and illustrations you can still see how time was very much a living thing between the people, the earth and the heavens above
  15. 15. Pope Gregory XIII In an attempt to celebrate Easter on the date agreed upon in 325. Pope Gregory XIII was the last of the great time reformers. In his name scientist managed to fix the system of leap years and came to the conclusion that 11 days should go to get the calendar in sync with the seasons again. Although the first countries switched in the years following 1582, it took until 1923 before Greece decided to go from 15 February to 1 March in one night
  16. 16. e Gregorian calendar is one of the most successful ideas in the history of civilisation. - Dan Falk Author of In Search of Time
  17. 17. KingsMaximilian I Kings meanwhile had another problem, how to set the legitimacy rule in historical context? For that reason they were already early on experimenting with family trees and timelines. And although we’ve long since abandoned the idea of counting in the year of our Kings their work can be seen as an early frontrunner of the Gantt chart
  18. 18. KingsMaximilian I The red area shows the cut-out from the previous slide. It’s an enormous woodcut ordered by Maximilian I, and a print of it can be found at the British Museum
  19. 19. Maximilian used vivid printed images like this to establish the genealogy and legitimacy of his house and the authority of his rule, both of which were actually newer and shakier than he would like to admit. - Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton in Cartographies of Time
  20. 20. John Harrison In 1714, the British government offered a longitude prize for a method of determining longitude at sea, with the awards ranging from £10,000 to £20,000 (several million pounds in modern terms) depending on accuracy.
  21. 21. H5 And John Harrison with the H4 (followed by the H5) was the first one to make a workable version. From that moment, time wouldn’t be the same again.
  22. 22. After 4000 years... We wound up with a neat system of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years to break the infinity of time into manageable chunks.
  23. 23. A set of tools and design patterns Present Degree of uncertainty Future Planner Calendar Timeline Scenarios
  24. 24. e clock dissociated time from human events and helped create belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences; the special world of science. By the close of the seventeenth century, time was seen as an abstract entity that marched forward without regards for human activity. - Lewis Mumford in In Search of Time
  25. 25. To tame time we’ve built a scaffolding so big and so deeply ingrained that it has changed our experience of the world profoundly
  26. 26. 2. Time in mind
  27. 27. A short history 1. If this, then that 2. Language 3. Story telling We can think about the evolution of time-thinking in three steps, first we got a gut feeling for an if this, than that chain. We developed a language and a further development of language helped us to tell stories
  28. 28. You might recognise this Observe Scenarios Act Reflect We can think about the evolution of time-thinking in three steps, first we got a gut feeling for an if this, than that chain. We developed a language and a further development of language helped us to tell stories
  29. 29. Mental time travel
  30. 30. Mental time travel comprises the mental reconstruction of personal events from the past and the mental construction of possible events in the future. - omas Suddendorf and Michael Corballis in Mental time travel and the evolution of the human mind, Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs, 1997
  31. 31. Procedural Semantic Episodic Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland
  32. 32. Scenarios of futures (and pasts)
  33. 33. Temporal construal theory
  34. 34. e greater the temporal distance, the more likely are events to be represented in terms of a few abstract features that convey the perceived essence of the events - Yaacov Trope and Nira Liberman in Temporal Construal, Psychological Review 2003
  35. 35. Many of us overestimate the uncertainty Present Time Degree of uncertainty Future
  36. 36. Time perspective
  37. 37. Time perspective is the often nonconscious personal attitude that each of us holds toward time. - Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd in Paradox of Time
  38. 38. Past Positive Their system is a system of five independent axes, meaning that scoring high or low on one axe doesn’t necessarily correlate with any of the other axes. The first ax of past positive where the focus is on the "good old days", past successes, nostalgia, etc.
  39. 39. Past Negative Past Positive Past negative: focus on regret, failure, all the things that went wrong
  40. 40. Present Hedonist Past Negative Past Positive Present hedonistic: living in the moment for pleasure and avoiding pain, seek novelty and sensation
  41. 41. Present Fatalist Present Hedonist Past Negative Past Positive Present fatalists are people also stuck in the now but for different reasons, for them there’s no point of making any planning, since they feel no control over their live
  42. 42. Futures Present Fatalist Present Hedonist Past Negative Past Positive And futures: the most recent category shaped by education, upbringing and society. We have to learn to work with the future and for the future.
  43. 43. Presents may be the invisible men and women of the twenty-first century, whereas futures live and play by the rules of time. - Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd in Paradox of Time
  44. 44. FuturesPresent Hedonist Past Positive They say that the healthiest way to live life is high in past positive, cherish the good times and feel grateful to those things that have happen’t to you. Medium in present positive, enjoy the now, but not more than you can afford and medium in future positive
  45. 45. A broader time horizon creates a more stable now Observe Scenarios Act Reflect Once you’ve created a positive feedback loop between scenarios, actions and reflections, you can create a more stable now
  46. 46. Discover your own Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory at
  47. 47. We have an amazing ability to use our minds to travel time, yet due to personal and social differences everyone uses these skills differently
  48. 48. 3. Time in Digital
  49. 49. Cone of uncertainty Present Time Degree of uncertainty Future
  50. 50. Time horizon Observe Scenarios Act Reflect
  51. 51. Ask two questions
  52. 52. 1. What is the time frame? Nearby Far away
  53. 53. Degree of uncertainty 2. What is the degree of uncertainty? Low High
  54. 54. e time/uncertainty quadrant Low uncertainty High uncertainty Nearby time Far away time And we can plot these two questions on a time/uncertainty quadrant, so we can explore four areas from nearby and low uncertainty to far away and high uncertainty
  55. 55. Patterns We can than start to fill this quadrant with the design patterns at hand
  56. 56. Reflections and scenarios Patterns that we can use to help people craft scenarios and reflect
  57. 57. Low uncertainty/ Nearby time
  58. 58. Lists on iOS7
  59. 59. Circle Partly cloudy on iOS7
  60. 60. Grids Calendar on iOS6 Sunrise on iOS6 Cal on iOS6
  61. 61. Time lines 10.000 feet on the internet
  62. 62. Lanyrd Lanyrd on iOS6 And a combination of them, such as cleverly done by Lanyrd, who cover the past, the present and the future in an interesting way.
  63. 63. Low uncertainty/ Far away time
  64. 64. Timehop Timehop on iOS7
  65. 65. Google Finance Google Finance on the Web
  66. 66. [How might] we make long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare? - Stewart Brand Co-founder of e Long Now Foundation Author of How Buildings Learn
  67. 67. Life planner What if you push planning to the extreme and create an interface that allows you to map out your life for the next 50 years?
  68. 68. High uncertainty/ Nearby time
  69. 69. Everest Everest on iOS7
  70. 70. Lift Lift on iOS7
  71. 71. High uncertainty/ Far away time
  72. 72. Face retirement Bring the future to the now
  73. 73. Design fiction Or the now to the future (Microsoft Office 2018)
  74. 74. Bucket lister Bucketlister on iOS7
  75. 75. Orbit We don’t have a clear metaphor for anything longer than a year. I tried to explore this through Orbit, an app that allows you to shoot events in to orbit and have them revisit you every so many years
  76. 76. An amazing ability to think in time A rich and deep history of design patterns Plenty of opportunities So, concluding we got
  77. 77. e time is now
  78. 78. ank you! Sjors Timmer, EuroIA 2013