There are many ways to use time to affect design. First, it is possible to use the sun, celestial objects, or a timepiece to encourage the viewer to think about the passing of time to evoke memories and thoughts about the future. On the other hand, the designer can deny any access to observation of time passing to create a timeless space or limbo. By creating a space that lacks access to the sun, et cetera, a space becomes temporally flat, with acknowledgement of the movement of time lost or hidden. Alternately, we can use actions and occurrences to encourage the perception of the acceleration of time. On the other hand, limiting any actions or occurrences will perceivably slow time. It could even be possible to orchestrate a space to perceive time has stopped or is infinitely long.
Other ways we can use time in design is to explore and promote time as an aggregation of smaller units of time or in opposite, suggest time as a smooth, continuous phenomenon. With this manipulation of the perception of time, we might even be able to look to the past and provide the impression of reversing time. How can we use memory and mental phenomena like deja vu to allow this to occur?
We can also manipulate time and our mental state, through work or meditation, to find the zone or groove. This is a possibility if the designer knows the interests of the user. This state makes time seem to disappear, while providing multiple systems or schedules at once will create multiple states of time which can create complex rhythms and syncopation of perception.
All of the possibilities above require the manipulation of the perception of time. In order to do this, the designer must utilize or deny the use of access to the sun’s progress across the sky, clocks, or actions that occur periodically. In addition, the designer can provide more than one of the options in a given space to provide concurrent but differing measures of time.
Time is a phenomenon that just exists, but the designer can manipulate its perception through the introduction of spaces, objects, actions, and their repetition or reintroduction. Time must exist with the presence of matter, and its passage relies on an observer to experience the progress.
Using time is a very strong solution for design because it provides variation and change just through its presence and its illustration in a space. The morning light is very different than that of the noon sun, and spaces and objects will appear differently. Likewise, repetition or the introduction of a timepiece will create a different experience than letting nothing happen.
Time can possibly be classified as natural real, synthetic real, natural perceived, and synthetic perceived. Natural real time is the passing of naturally occurring events in the world, such as the movement of the sun, heartbeats, and seasonal migration. Synthetic real time is the passing of time on manmade timepieces. Natural perceived time is the experienced acceleration or deceleration of time because of events and conditions in the real world, while synthetic perceived is also the experience of speeding up and slowing down of time because of incidents and context within the realm of the artificial timepiece.
The methods of time can be classified in multiple ways. Time can be measured as points on a continuum. It can also be a point in the future that we proceed towards expectantly. We can also understand time in lengths where conditions are nearly continuous with minimal change followed by shifting states. To add more variables, time can be measured against multiple timepieces with multiple events, or we can introduce the experiential perception of time as given above.
We must explore time in design and seek not only the real meaning, but the perceptual and philosophical meanings of time. By acknowledging the phenomenon, we can change our understanding of the elements and objects of design while also changing our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. Can the designs themselves change? Of course. Should they change? Surely, the visitor would grow bored with a given design installation without some changes. These changes might be the update of parts of the assembly, the light that hits the work, but the design can also change through the change of the viewer through time. Memory is not continuous, and if we progress through time, aren’t we really different people? Aren’t the objects in a design perceived differently with time’s passage? Time could be a great ally in design.