perception of time

perception of time

One thing rarely discussed when designing is time. More specifically, how it can affect the design of systems and their implementation. Designers may find it useful to understand how cultures' interpret time to better influence and shape the end product or results.

Globally, time is not interpreted and felt the same place to place. There is no universal now. Some cultures are future oriented while others are more concerned with the present and past. For American’s, schedules are valuable tools in managing their time. According to Hall, in his work The Voices of Time, “Americans tend to think of time as something fixed in nature. [...] As a road or a ribbon stretching into the future, along which one progresses. The road has segments or compartments which are to be kept discrete.” Compare that with the indigenous view of the Navajo, and it is completely different. For the Navajo, only the immediate present has reality. The future has limited reality, only the here and now have actual relevance.

By having an understanding of how time is different from culture to culture, instances of poor design can be mitigated. For example, one such instance in the case of Hyder Akbar’s story of Abdul Wali described in the article Interrogation Unbound. If the U.S. servicemen in this story better understood the Afghan interpretation of time, the tragic end result may have been avoidable. The servicemen should have developed a different system for their interrogation. One that used language, in its reference to time,  that was understandable and relatable to Abdul Wali. But Wali did not understand what being asked of him because it was not formulated in a way he could understand.

This is just one example of how limited understanding of time influenced design. As mentioned earlier, designers have begun to shift toward a more user centric approach in designing. Designers should begin to incorporate concepts of time into their methodology. Having time conscious aspects of design may better enhance the overall design, affording accessibility and use to a wider or more global audience.