Originally published on Eye on Design.
I finished writing this post at deep sea blue and published it here a few days later at lavender. Depending on where you are in the world right now, you might be reading this at cerulean, or black, or bright white. Instead of using numbers, this is how the self-described “pretend designer” and self-taught clockmaker, Scott Thrift, would have us tell time with his new high-concept clock, Today.
If you own the Present, an unusual annual clock that marked Thrift’s first foray into using color as a time-keeping device, you’re already familiar with the difference between the way a gradual gradient marks the passage of time versus the rigid grid of a calendar, or the hard-and-fast numbers on a clock face. One feels human, the other, mechanical. Glancing up at the rainbow-hued Present, for example, I can see it’s yellow right now (the summer solstice), that it’ll soon be orange, and before I know it we’ll be in purple (winter solstice). To conventional calendar users, that would be June, August, and January.
Even if you don’t choose to tell time with color, you might still know about the Present clock. It was one of those epic, early Kickstarter success stories that was funded four times over and went on to be collected by MoMA and carried in its store. While it may look simple enough, designing a perfect annual clock movement with a full-color spectrum gradient specially printed on steel proved to be a huge challenge for Thrift. Now, five years later, Thrift seems to not only have perfected the mechanics with Today (not to mention his Kickstarter game—Today hit its goal in just four hours and is nearing the $250k mark), but he’s distilled his original year-long concept into a more digestible daily reminder designed to help us all slow the eff down.
A little bit poetry, a little bit practicality, and way more than just a pretty gradient (which just so happens to make for excellent desktop wallpaper), there are a few really innovative design elements in Today that elevate it from art project to daily tool. Consider first that a standard clock hand goes around twice. The hand on the Today clock, however, moves half as fast, making its way around just once in a 24-hour period. Slower clock, calmer life.
The lateral white strip and the placement of the color gradient is also important. On a typical clock, 6 p.m. falls at the very bottom, making it feel (at least for me) as if you’ve reached the end of your day when there are still six glorious hours left. But since the Today clock starts on the far left (where the 9 would normally land), by the time it’s 6 p.m., a full 12 hours later, you’re only at the halfway point. Now you end your work day in the bright white, decidedly hopeful-feeling spectrum. You can power off your computer, wipe the slate clean, and enjoy the next big, full, lovely part of your day.
It’s a simple but effective perspective shift that can change how you think about your waking hours in a way that makes it seem like you’ve been magically handed more time—if you remember to look at Today, every single day. That’s kind of a big “if.” With Today, since I don’t needto look at it to tell time, I find I need to hang it right smack in my line of site, directly above my computer screen at my desk, to achieve the desired effect. I’m human, and without the constant physical object in front of me, I forget to remember to slow down. Thrift must struggle with this to some extent as well; he told me he has both Present and Today clocks hanging together in most of the rooms in his house.
But what about those of us without his monk-like devotion or endless supply of clocks? And what about when I leave my office or my house, what then? Plus, I work from a lot of different places, from home, from restaurants, from airplanes, and hotel rooms. Does the talismanic power of Today extend beyond the clock itself?
I don’t know if the solution is a travel-size version, or an app, or if I just need to try harder to be “more present,” but the answer can’t just be hanging up more clocks. Maybe eventually it’ll become part of my routine and I won’t need the object as a reminder anymore. After all, I had to practically force myself to meditate, and now I can hardly start my day without sitting in perfect silence for at least 10 minutes. There’s hope for me yet, right? In the meantime I’ll be updating my iPhone background photo to this: