A Little Jar of Time.

Physical Computing Project @ University of Washington | 2 weeks | 2018

A Little Jar of Time is an Arduino-powered timer that gently reminds people a passage of time through incrementing light. We especially targeting providing a more productive environment for users. In the use cases of our storyboards, our target users can focus on their work or conversations and experience less stress in their working environment - they would notice the time when they wish to.   

My Role: I was a part of a small team with 3 people and responsible for the strategy and the design of the bottle and the interaction. 

 

Challenge.

How might we make a simple, useful tool to lower the anxiety triggered by the tick-tock clock?”

Setting a timer is common in everyday scenarios - in presentations, meetings, and at work. However, in some scenarios, digital timers might increase anxieties triggered by the precise display of time or the alarming sound. We thus decided to design a simple, useful tool that indicates time gently. In this design, we especially targeting providing a more productive environment for users. In the use cases of our storyboards, our target users can focus on their work or conversations and experience less stress in their working environment - they would notice the time when they wish to. 

Final Design.

RELIEVING PULSING LIGHT AT CERTAIN SPEED

Instead of using sound or blinking light, we use incrementing LED lights to indicate time. The jar will be completely lighted after a preset amount of time. The user's workflow won't be interrupted when time is up.

RESET TIME

The resetting feature is especially useful in presentations or meetings, where each speaker has an equivalent amount of time.

  • The tilt sensor inside the jar enables the user to reset the timer by inverting the jar.

  • After being inverted, the light will increment from the bottom again.

STRUCTURE

We experimented with various light colors and chose a gradient blue and green, which simulates different layers of water. To further such visual narrative, we stuck fish silhouettes on the body of the jar. The pulsing light thus looks like water flow with the seams between acrylic rings. This form factor makes the jar more desirable by enriching the user experience with the jar.

MATERIAL

 

Tactile Button Switch (6mm) x 2

Bleached Mulberry paper x 1

Individually Addressable 144 LED light strips x 2

0.22 x 18 x 24 inch Clear Acrylic Sheet x 1

Tilt Ball Switch x 1

PLA (3D-printed Caps x 2)

Connecting to the App.

 

After the user connects to the jar by pressing the Bluetooth button, the user can set a desired interval of time under 24 hours. After an interval is set, the user presses the power button to start the timer, and presses the power button again to turn it off.

 

 

Set the Time

 

The design of the app is very simple and straightforward. After opening the app, The user will land on the page where he/she could select the time or add a new one if didn't find any desired time interval. Also, the user could sort the time by clicking the button "...".

The counting down of the time looks the same with the physical product - when the time is up, the water will fill out the whole screen.

 

 

Scenarios.

Design Process.

OBSERVATIONS

In the scenario of meetings and appointments, we observe that speakers need to keep track of time during conversations.

 

SECONDARY RESEARCH

The primary inspiration of A Lil Jar of Time is drawn from Pomodoro Technique, which is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. Cirillo proposes using a timer to break down work into intervals (usually 25 minutes) since people can only be focused and efficient within a certain period of time. However, according to the recent neuroscience research everyone's attention span varies.

 

PRIMARY RESEARCH

During our interviews with people with professional working experience, we notice that these users don't wish to know a precise duration of time when concentrating on tasks. 1 or 2 minutes' delay to finish the last sentence/step would not hurt, and an alarm sound was nerve-racking. A less intrusive way of communicating time is desired. We thus decided to design a simple, useful tool that indicates a passage of time visually. 

IDEATION

I ideated various forms of the jar, considering shapes that simulate an hourglass.

EARLY PROTOTYPING AND USER TESTING

In our early prototypes, we experimented with multiple ways to layout one light strip and implemented different light modes through Arduino IDE coding.  The main three light modes we tested with several colleagues in our studio are on the right. We asked the participants to imagine themselves working or talking with each light mode, which represents a passage of time passing. 

INSIGHTS

1. Whether the light moves downward or upward would not alter the perceptions of time.

2. Light rings and light blocks give a clearer sense of unit when participants trying to measure time.

3. Gradient pulsing light gives a sense of peacefulness.

USER TESTING

I carefully measured and calculated the closest distance between lights with desired incrementing effects, we customized a foam accordingly and taped 2 LED strips on it.

INSIGHTS

1. Power button's position and type should be reconsidered.

2. Inverting the jar to reset the jar is desirable, yet the size and shape of the jar should be optimized ergonomically

3. Participants did not notice that time was up until they finished the tasks in both prototypes. 

4. Participants could not tell if time was almost up or already up by looking at Prototype A. 

 

DECISIONS

While an equal number of participants preferred Prototype A or B, we decided to go with Prototype A since:

  • The purpose of the jar is not to measure time precisely but to visually remind people of a passage of time;

  • P2 and P4 claimed that Prototype B was more obvious to them, yet their spent time of noticing Prototype A did not distinguish significantly from that of Prototype B; 

  • Prototype B might made users question the reliability of the system constantly, which is a severe usability pro

FINAL PROTOTYPING

I carefully measured and calculated the closest distance between lights with desired incrementing effects, we customized a foam accordingly and taped 2 LED strips on it.

We also designed the diffusion of light by trying multiple distances between different materials and the light strips. We chose mulberry paper considering its organic look and texture. The closest distance to reach a desired diffusion effect is 12mm.

After all this work, we concluded that the inner diameter of the jar should be at least 80mm to fit everything perfectly. We decided to build the entire body of our design from scratch since getting a jar of exactly the desired size and texture (evenly distributed rings) is too difficult.

Exhibit.

Our team presented our project in the atrium of The Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington.

Our work is selected to be presented at the annual UW Maker Summit

 

© 2019 Xinbei Hu