“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

Time is every designer’s constant companion

Ok, I might come off looking a little bad here, but hopefully you all will be forgiving. …

I was walking down the street last week, when I noticed a woman in a very beautiful dress. I started thinking to myself, why is this dress more beautiful (my mind’s perception obviously) than any other dress around me. I mean obviously, the person in it has something to do with it, but a designer can’t really predict that part.

Then I noticed how the dress moves. It just didn’t lay there on this woman. It moved, creased, waved, poofed, stretched, etc. Whether it was because of the wind or because of the woman’s movements, the dress changed shape over (here it comes) time.

In my blog, I have a category dedicated to the foundations of IxD. Part of my list of foundational elements of IxD is “time”. I have even gone so far as to say that “time” is a primary distinguishing attribute between IxD and visual design and information architecture.

My recent fashion design analysis has made that statement more complex than I had originally imagined. It now seems to me that time in all its complexity itself is multi-dimensional and and that many design disciplines require a designer to consider at least implicitly some sub-set of those dimensions in almost every aspect of design. Why is that? Because all design is lived. Meaning it is experienced as we live our lives. There is no such thing as a purely static moment. There are always the moments of entry and departure from every moment that brings with it many different dimensions of context, and because there are these steps in experience, there are at least 3 distinct points of time for every design experience (or experience of design) that need to be considered as part of the equation in that design solution.

So after this epiphany I started thinking about how seemingly every form of design is either evaluated across time, or needs to consider some dimension of time in order to be successful. Thus, eliminating the arrogant notion that only IxD considers time as a fundamental function.

Architecture (and Interior Design) – space is moved through and lived in, and these two aspects vital to architectural success take place through time.

Graphic Design (and all visual/presentation design functions) – This one might be a bit harder. When designing a font or logo, or event designing a reading object like a book or magazine, graphical treatments need to live through time.

  • Does a post catch people’s attention quickly and unobstrusively so they can move on in their lives.
  • The legibility of a page will allow a reader to either read more quickly, or “stay” longer to consume more before their eyes tire.

fashion design – well we already alluded to how fabrics move, and movement always occurs over time, but also think about comfort, sweat absorption, temperature ratings, color comfort to the eyes, etc as all aspects of fashion that will affect the success of garment, but are elements that take place over time.

industrial design – while some industrial design pieces are never really used per se, 99% of industrial design is about use, and all use exists over time.

So is this all just “Duh!” fest? Is there any use to this little epiphany except a personal slap in the face for being so arrogant?

Well, yes. The reasoning here is that while all forms of design deal with time, they manipulate or are evaluated across time quite differently than IxD in some ways, and in other ways the means of evaluating success of a product against time criteria in some disciplines is actually very useful for thinking about IxD solutions as well.

As a general rule, anything that gets you thinking about all the ways that your design solution needs to be successful, the better that your design directions will be. For help with shifting your mind around the various dimensions and relative nature of time, I highly recommend you read “Einstein’s Dreams” by Alan Lightman.

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