I thought I would take a design I saw recently and run it through the Critical Design matrix we talked about yesterday. This is largely incomplete, as I want to get these ideas out of my head while they are still fresh…I may revisit it later.
Durr as a design is a part of the time and timekeeping space. It could also have secondary links to the quantified self and personal tracking spaces as well, similar to fitness trackers.
Durr’s primary purpose is to measure time, albeit in an unconventional way: in 5-minute increments, rather than as a concrete hour-and-minute format.
The functionality of the design is extremely limited; its only function is to vibrate every 5 minutes.
In line with its functionality, the interactivity consists of a single button on the side of the device, which turns the vibrations on and off.
Durr takes the shape of a traditional watch, and is housed in a round casing with a leather strap to be worn around the wrist.
From the product page:
The chassis and fastening mechanism of Durr are sintered in polyamide and hand-dyed by us. The strap is laser-cut Norwegian vegetanned leather, and we program and hand-solder the electronics with RoHS-compliant (lead-free) components on ENIG-plated circuit boards.
See also their beautiful documentation of their design and assembly process here.
The designers of Durr made it with the intent of reshaping and reframing how its users perceive time. Rather than reporting the exact time on the face of the device itself, Durr instead challenges its users to think more actively about how they measure the passage of time by reporting it (in the form of vibrations) at a fixed interval. One recent review of the device was particularly revealing in this regard:
Towards the end of CES week I attended a funeral that was conducted almost entirely in Greek — a language I don’t speak — and permeated with incense and all manner of Orthodox chanting. I was there to pay my respects and say goodbye, but a combination of faint-inducing incense and general sleep deprivation had turned this gesture into a battle to maintain consciousness. Once again, Durr quietly vibrated away, letting me know that each six hours that passed had in fact been just five minutes.
Proposals for change
Durr’s call-to-action is as subtle as its form of notification; the device itself is not forcing the user to forgo the use of a traditional clock (which can be found just about anywhere else in addition to your wrist), but rather defamiliarizing the most readily accessible means of measuring the passage of time. The moment you glance at your wrist to check the time, you realize that there is no face for you to check, and are then reminded of the fact that you’re actively participating in the device’s constraint it has set for you. Durr seems to suggest a rethinking of what qualifies as the passage of time, and how it can be quantified.
How one chooses to interpret or utilize the vibrations appears to shape how much value people attribute to this device. Some anecdotal accounts of the device in use suggest increase productivity, as people measure the number of vibration “events” that it takes to complete a task. From a material perspective, some have criticised it as being nothing more than “an egg timer on a strap,” and not worth the high asking price (€90, around $120). Another lens through which this device could be examined is the circumstances of its manufacture: the run of 50 initial devices was largely done as an experiment on the part of the designers, each of them hand assembled. The location of the studio where they were made is also a factor; Oslo, Norway is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live and work, and shipping internationally from such a location factors into the cost of the product itself.
It seems to me that one of the core messages of Durr is to encourage people to be more reflective about how they spend their day: how long responding to that email really takes, how much time it really takes to drive into work in the morning, how long one really is waiting on hold for customer service, and so on. This sort of static quantification can be good or bad, calling attention to the speed (or lack thereof) with which time passes as we go about our daily activities. The fact that the vibrations are insistent, not stopping for any reason (unless they are muted using the single button) is also instructive: it points to the relentless march of time itself, towards a rather bleak and macabre realization that each vibration demarcates another five minutes of your life that is lost to you, closer to the end of your life. But beyond that rather grim conclusion, Durr is a passive observer; it doesn’t attempt to overly influence or sway its users one way or the other. From its rather passive physical design using pleasing, natural colors (with names like Cooked Salmon and Fjord Blue) and materials to the designers almost indifferent intentions for the initial trial run of devices, Durr seems to suggest that time is a river, and it is merely a gently bobbing vessel to remind you of the current.