Design in Time and Space

I went to music school as an undergrad. Though I studied classical voice, I hung out mostly with jazzers and composers, folks that not only performed other people’s music but improvised and created new music. One of the things we did together was to listen to music. Constantly. If we already knew the record, we’d point out special parts as they were about to arrive, “Check this is out, check this out, listen…”  And if the record was new to us, we’d giggle with delight as special moments surprised us. Something I came to appreciate about music then was its temporal nature. Music happens in real time and so does our experience with it as a listener or a player.

Ten years later I found design. Design is often confused with the visual. Or if you’re talking to someone with a little more understanding of it, that description is extended to the tactile. Design is the “look and feel” of a product. And while the word “feel” gets closer to what design is, it still misses the mark. Design is spacial and temporal. Our experiences with designed objects happen in space and time. For example, the designed gadgets, furniture, and architectural elements in our homes live in specific spaces where we interact with them at specific times. Mobile devices like cars or smartphones live in a more fluid way in time and space but they are still time and space bound.

So when we design new products and systems or talk about existing ones, it’s important that we understand how these products and systems live in time and space. If we focus only on the visual, we design products that look great in a press release or a magazine but fail in real life. The human experience lives in time and space. And so must design.


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