Time in design

While pondering a topic for this post I habitually glance down at my wristwatch and decide that it might be a suitable inspiration.

I rapidly mind-map a potential overlap between horology and software design / development but only find ethereal concepts – nothing concrete. What I do find is an overlap between how my taste in watches evolved in a similar way to my tastes in design for the web. So I suppose I’ll write about that.

When I was a kid I was interested in the digital watches that were all the rage in the 90’s. You probably remember the Casio calculator watch and the infamous TV controlling version that wrought havoc at my primary school during TV time. Having access to that technology via my wrist was so exciting as a pre-teen who’d grown up watching movies like Flight of the Navigator, D.A.R.Y.L. and Short Circuit. How primitive it all seems looking back in hindsight!

Speaking of primitive, you’ve heard of the Apple Watch right? No, not that one. This one; What a beauty!

The original Apple watch of the 90’s

Why watches?

There’s something about the symmetry, composition and movement of shapes and numbers that appeals to me as a designer. I’m sure many of my peers can identify with that.

As I grew up my tastes in watches changed. I still own a Casio f-91w to this day, but nowadays I’m more interested in purely mechanical watches.

I spend so much of my time in the digital world, I find it grounding to know that I have about my person, a purely mechanical device that thanks to the magic of gears, levers, springs and my own inertia will tell me the time for as long as I wear it. Like some kind of philosophical tuning fork. No batteries or microchips here! It’s kind of how I assume a Jedi feels about their Lightsaber, Indiana Jones about his whip, or Jean-Luc Picard about his… cool use of intellect.

The inner workings of the movement is fascinating, perhaps even more so than the design of the watch face. And whilst not as accurate as your average quartz watch, the craftsmanship that goes into these miniature feats of mechanical engineering can be astounding. It’s a shame that watches are often seen as status symbols these days. I’m not denying that some of them do command eye-watering prices but come on, who can’t appreciate the artistry on display here;

A. Lange & Söhne - Datograph Up-Down combined 2 pink gold
A. Lange & Söhne Datograph


Or if you fancy something a little more futuristic, how about the Ressence Type 3, a watch that re-imagines the traditional time-telling experience

That’s not a digital display, it’s all mechanical.

There is also the alluring history attached to particular timepieces. For example the Omega Speedmaster which was worn on the moon by Buzz Aldrin and used to time critical procedures during the Apollo 13 mission. Or the Rolex Explorer, which is a descendent of the watch worn by Sir Edmund Hillary as he became the first human to summit Mount Everest. Or of course the Rolex Submariner which Sean Connery wore in the original James Bond movies and is probably the most copied watch design ever…

In the modern world a watch may be little more than a trinket – a piece of jewellery, or a fashion item. Just something to tell the time. But by that notion you might also say that a hat is just a tool to keep your head warm and dry. Or that a car is just a way of getting from point A to point B. The concept of time itself is a fascinating thing – I figure that I might as well enjoy checking the current state of it!

I thought you said this had something to do with the web?

Ah yes. In my original mind-map I reflected on how my taste for wristwatches grew and changed in a similar fashion to my tastes and interest in design for the web.

I remember being drawn to the gaudy Flash web sites of the early noughties, just as I was drawn to the excitement of a watch that could control my television set a few years prior. But when I looked at the code behind those sites I was ultimately left underwhelmed.

I began to feel at home when I discovered CSS, Web Standards, and the “Code is poetry” philosophy. The beautification and craft of the parts of a web site that are not on display has felt equally important to the “design” ever since. Those same principles are clearly present in the world of watch design. Every time I glance down to check the time I’m reminded to apply those principles to my work as a designer for the web.

That’s it really. Nothing groundbreaking or particularly exciting. A personal confirmation I suppose, that I’m in the right place, working on the right things. Surrounded by folks who might not share my interest in watches, but certainly appreciate that the way things work is just as important as how they look.

By James Koster

Product Designer