Designing for time use

We all seem to be running out of time. Time use is an important but often overlooked aspect of design. What do designers need to know about time and time use?

  • Types of Time

We don’t all use or experience time in the same way. Scholars call two types of time “monochroncity” and “polychronicity.” Polychronicity is defined as the extent to which individuals do more than one task at once. “Polychrons” tend to overlap tasks, dovetail their activities to “hit more than one bird with a stone” and are overall more comfortable with a variability in time sequencing. Monochrons, by contrast, prefer strict planning, a knowable a predictable sequence of events, and a general uniformity in the understanding of time.

These two types of time mean two types of design outcomes: one that is intended for the multi-tasking user and one that is for the single-tasking user. Designers should know ahead of time which type of time to incorporate in their work.

  • Temporal Impact On Creativity

Madjar and Oldham found that time orientation, time pressue and task rotation is related to creativity. People who were polychronic and rotated through creative tasks (creating marketing plans) tended to be produce more creative results. Monochronic people tended to produce more creative results when they proceeded sequentially through tasks. Both groups had less creative results when they perceived intense time pressure.

  • Tips for Designing For Time Use
  1. Temporal Disruption for Users: Recognize you are disrupting users’ temporal process, which is often taken-for-granted and invisible. This disruption can be significant in that is will increase stress, anxiety and may elicit negative responses. This is especially important for designers of technology. Research has shown there is a large and often unintended impact through poorly designed technology.
  2. Agency/Client Temporal Disconnect: For those of you in agencies working with clients, recognize your own working process may differ from your clients’. This may result in miscommunications about expectations of temporal consistency. Your clients may be monochrons and expect you to be the same.
  3. In-house Temporal Disconnect: Managers tend to have more control over their work flow. They also tend to order themselves monochronically. But those further down the totem pole tend to have little control and are often polycrhonic as a result (often unwillingly). Managing a good design practice is ensuring that every worker has some autonomy in their temporal practice. Let monochrons be monochrons.
  4. Your Own Creativity: Are you monochronic or polychronic? Your team likely has a mixture of both. Find out which one you are and try to engineer situations that match your orientation.
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One response to “Designing for time use

  1. Pingback: Context, time and technology « Design Research

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