Temporal Design
: design for a multi-temporal world

  • Larissa Pschetz

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Our lives are composed of multiple rhythms, but many of us, living in Western industrialised societies, believe that the world is moving ever faster. Many of us also feel the range of negative impacts that this supposed condition of acceleration brings to everyday life, to social interac- tions and to the natural world. From attempting to reconfigure our bodies through caffeine and other stimulants to working longer hours to manage the rush, or wondering how it is damaging our environment, we all eventually experience a sense of powerlessness regarding this supposed rule of acceleration.

    Acceleration, however, does not correspond to how the world is, but how it is presented for some people, in some situations. The notion of acceleration as a universalised condition is just an expression of dominant narratives of time, which are embedded in accounts of what it means to be modern or postmodern, and which have been recently demystified in the social sciences and the humanities. The world is comprised of multiple temporal expressions, which con- tinue to play important roles in our lives, despite being disregarded within dominant narratives.

    This thesis analyses the role of these narratives as well as different approaches to time in design. It suggests that the hegemony of such accounts has been restricting design practice in three main ways:

    1. by monopolising designers’ understandings of time and precluding the exploration of alternative expressions and more recent theoretical work on time;

    2. by locating temporality within technological artefacts and systems and ignoring the breadth of expressions beyond and around these technologies; and

    3. by simplifying proposals for a diversification of temporal notions that would otherwise contribute to promoting more varied perceptions of rhythms. This simplification is particularly noticeable in the outcomes of the Slow Technology and Slow Design movements, which have failed to acknowledge such narratives and have become integrated in them rather than challenging them.

    The research proposes Temporal Design as a new perspective on time in design, one focused not on a particular rhythm or temporal expression, but on the multiplicity of ways in which we all inhabit time, in its contrasts, combinations, changes and superpositions. Temporal Design is based on three principles:

    1. identifying dominant narratives and attempting to challenge them so as to reveal more nuanced expressions of time;

    2. drawing attention to specific alternative temporalities; and

3. tactically exposing networks of times so as to illustrate multiplicity and variety.

    The research invites designers to disturb taken-for-granted notions as a method of approaching principle (1) outlined above. It discusses the limitations of current Speculative and Critical De- sign approaches to tackling more complex issues of time, proposing instead a critical affirmative attitude toward approaching principles (2) and (3) outlined above.

    Temporal Design is explored in this research via three design interventions, namely the Family Clock, the Printer Clock and the TimeBots, which have been performed in both family homes and schools. The interviews conducted in the context of these interventions showed how domi- nant narratives are deeply embedded in the language used to describe temporal expressions. The interviews, however, also demonstrated how multiple temporalities are manifest beneath these concepts, how practices come together to construct multiple expressions of time and how temporal interpretations are essentially detached from issues of value. Most importantly, the interventions demonstrate how designers can foster temporal empathy, and disclose more nuanced, situated and complex temporalities and rhythms.

    Many authors have argued that design has the power to change perceptions of the world. By shifting the focus from individual modes to diversity, Temporal Design attempts not only to change the way designers perceive and approach time, but also to change more broadly the way designed artefacts and systems come to affect temporal perceptions among the general public. Perhaps through design, we will all come to recognise that acceleration is not the rule, but just one among many expressions of the rich temporal texture that constitutes time in the world.
    Date of Award2014
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsMicrosoft Research
    SupervisorJon Rogers (Supervisor), Chris Speed (Supervisor) & Richard Banks (Supervisor)


    • Temporal design
    • Slow technology
    • Slow design

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