Timers might not sound like an organizing product—but as a professional organizer, I recommend them to my clients all the time. They're great for overcoming procrastination; end-users can set the timer for 15 minutes and do some dreaded task for just that amount of time. Or they might set the timer for 20 minutes and make sure, when it goes off, that they are still on task. And, of course, timers are useful when cooking and baking, or performing any task where keeping track of time is critical.
Yes, many of us carry timers around with us on our smartphones—but not all end-users have smart phones. And for some, the timer on a smartphone is harder to use than a physical timer. And do we want our smartphones exposed to liquids, grease and chemicals?
Both this timer and the one above come from Zone Denmark. The spinning top timers catch your eye, but the other timer has the advantage of being magnetic, so you can stick it on a refrigerator door (unless the fridge is stainless steel). However, the websites for these timers leave me wondering about many crucial design issues, such as these: How long can the timer be set for? What does the timer sound like when it goes off? Does it tick as it counts down?
This basic egg timer comes from Kuchenprofi, and a number of other companies have products that look similar. This one's an hour-long timer, which is pretty common. The company says it has a long, loud ring, which is important. With the simple design, wiping it clean would be a snap. And it uses a mechanical movement, so no batteries are required.
Here's another mechanical timer with a simple design: the minitimer, designed by Richard Sapper for Terraillon. You'll find this one in MoMA's collection; it's at the Brooklyn Museum, too. With this design, the remaining time is visible both from the side and the top.
Matthaeus Krenn had a red one, and he explained how to set the timer: "Twist the two red halves in oposite directions to load a spring on the inside. Then twist back to set the timer to the desired duration." Sounds easy, right? But I wondered how this would work for someone with arthritis.
The A-Pollo timer from Koziol was designed by Matthias Lehner as part of a series of kitchen products with a different sort of handle. "With just a flick of the wrist the timer is set and the countdown begins," says Made in Design.
The Alessi kitchen timer, designed by Michael Graves, is another mechanical-movement timer. While it supposedly has a loud ring, some end-users have said that the ringer is fairly soft—a pretty significant issue with a timer! This is a good reminder of the basics: a timer must be accurate, and it must be obvious when the time is done.
This is one of the most creative looks I've seen in a timer; it's the f/60 Lens Kitchen Timer from Photojojo. It's another no-battery design, with a "classic jangly bell" to let you know the time is up.
Some timers provide a visual cue that the time is up (or ending), as well as sounding some kind of alarm. The Pie Timer from Joseph Joseph one one we've mentioned before (here and here). It's another mechanical timer—and one with many nice design features, including visual representation of the time left. A "classic alarm bell" alerts you when the time is up. The timer is another one that would be a cinch to clean, and it's also designed to be easy to grip, even with wet hands.
The Time Timer is all about making the remaining time visible; the red disk gets smaller as less time remains. But there is a beep when time is up, and the end-user can control the volume—a nice design touch. While this is a battery-controlled timer, it operates silently until that beep at the end. While all sorts of visually-oriented end-users might like this timer, it's one of those that is often recommended for those with ADHD; unlike many other such timers, this one doesn't seem specifically child-focused.
Amco makes both digital and analog versions of its Color Alert Timer. The blinking light starts as green; with 10 minutes left it changes to yellow, and with one minute left it turns to red. It's a design that allows the end-user to glance at the timer, across the room, and get a clue as to where things stand in the timer cycle. There's also an audible alarm at the end.
The Duality Timer, designed by Ben Zaslow, has both an alarm and a light go off when the time reaches zero, making it much less likely the alarm will be missed. The rubberized bottom helps the timer stay in place. One thing that concerns me is that the time settings are not clearly indicated; there are markings, but it's not obvious how much time they represent. This won't be an issue to many users, but it will be confusing to some.
This timer from Sper Scientific has a lot going for it. The rubberized case will help it stay in place. You can adjust the alarm volume, turning it off entirely or going up to a reasonable volume. There's also a visual alarm; the display area illuminates and flashes on and off. It goes up to 99 minutes (as compared to the more normal 60 minutes) and makes warning sounds at 5 minutes and 3 minutes before the alarm goes off. And it's got big numbers which are easy to read, even for those (like me) with aging eyes.
And since we're talking about timers with visual signals, I just had to mention the hourglass. Of course, it won't be practical in most cases, given that it has a single time "setting."
But timers with limited options can be useful. I've given away these Datexx cube timers as door prizes at speaking engagements, because they are the world's simplest timers, and people love them. You just flip the cube so the time you want is on the top, and that's it! The white one allows you to set times of 5, 15, 30 and 60 minutes; the blue one has increments of 1, 3, 5 and 7 minutes —and there are also versions with other preset times. I've found the white one to be the most useful, but different people will have different needs. We wrote about a similar product in the past, which seems to have been the first of these genre, but I find this one to be more aesthetically pleasing.
Finally, I'd like to note that sometimes the best timer isn't all that much to look at, but it just works. The one above is my own kitchen timer. I have had some issues with the timer holding up, though, because I'm on about my third one of these. But I keep coming back to it because it lets me time two things at once (three, actually, but I don't think I've ever used the third button). And it makes a different repeated sound as each one reaches its end time: one long beep, two shorter beeps, three quick beeps.
This timer from CDN was the one selected by pastry chef and cookbook author David Lebovitz. It's simple and accurate—and it has big numbers and a non-annoying ring.
Another one that looks very practical is this dual timer from Taylor. It has silicone grips to make it easy to set the time, and a silicone base to help it stay in place. There's a long ring at the end; no batteries are required.
And because I think it's so important that designers create products for those with physical limitations, I want to end with a timer designed for those with arthritis and/or low vision. The display is large—and the numbers and markings are raised, so they can be felt, not just seen. The large dial is designed to be easy to turn. And it's got an extra-long ring to help the hard of hearing.