The round form of the clock is certainly one of the earliest forms of information visualization. Going back to the sundial and perhaps earlier, the form hasn't changed much over the millennia: show time as a circle, reflecting the revolving nature of the sun's rotation around the earth.
But there are certainly other ways to think about time, each with their own purpose. There's of course the classic sand timer, which visualizes time as a finite, one-way event; it's perfect for board games and timed scenarios. And there's the binary clock: its dots create an arrangement signaling to others that you're probably a programmer or math lover. My favorite are the Roman fasti, lists of events organized by time.
Enter NOOKA's new iPhone app, which features a host of alternative visualizations for time. The full-fledged app includes a number of face designs from their popular product line, with playful names like "zot," "zenh" and "zirc." Each takes a different approach to showing time, from boxes and dots to a circle that represents hours and a line that represents minutes. Useful for world travelers is a world clock that displays multiple time zones intuitively in a single way.
NOOKA argues that their graphical representation of time "transcends the linguistics and math that make telling time difficult for a child to learn." It takes some time to get the hang of the interface but it quickly starts to make sense. But unless NOOKA's time visualizations are adopted on a wider scale, I'd still recommend teaching children the standard analog and digital clocks interfaces.
The app offers an alternative way to think of time, and that's valuable. Many of NOOKA's interfaces show hours as blocks or circles, large periods of time that advance slowly over the day in discrete chunks. Minutes and seconds, on the other hand, function more like an hour glass, ticking towards a finite, determined end. As we've seen in linguistics studies, how we talk and think about time influences how we conceptualize our time and plan ahead. This makes sense for visual language too.
An Xiao Mina is an American designer strategist and researcher who recently worked on the Gwangju Design Biennale's Un-Named Design exhibition. She focuses on the role of social media and communications technologies in building communities and empowering individuals. Find her on Twitter here.