Meet a technologist: Anne Spaa and her ‘Disrupting Clocks’

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A modern twist to grandpa's clock: you'll never look at it the same way!

Anne Spaa

Anne Spaa sees design as a means to explore relationships that grow between objects and humans. Through that scope, she aims to discuss the role of technology in our lives.

Anne is an Industrial Design graduate from the Eindhoven University of Technology (Tu/e)  with several international work and research experiences: she conducted her graduation project at the Everyday Design Studio of Professor Ron Wakkary (Vancouver, CA). She has been an intern at Muzus – a service design studio for context mapping – and on side of her studies, she worked for several conferences in Berlin and Amsterdam, and exhibitions in Helsinki and Eindhoven, in the field of Creative Technology and Design with a focus on project management and production. She investigates the social, cultural and ethical aspects of the design spectrum. Over time, she has transformed from a human-centered to an object-centered designer.

Currently, she is investigating the normative and moral impact of technological objects on our everyday lives. These objects influence our behaviour through the interactions they require, in order to be able to adopt their functions in our routines.

In her latest project ‘Disrupting Clocks’ (2016) she explores these ideas by taking a research-through-design approach: she re-designed the alarm clock and grandfather clock to critically discuss their impact on our ability to take breaks in the 24/7 society.

Anne exposed her clocks at the ‘Mind the step’ exhibition, during the Dutch Design Week that took place in Eindhoven this November.

TECHNOLOGIST How is your personal relationship to time?

ANNE SPAA I always considered myself as a slow person, but also, very conscious of the limitation of time. I enjoy time as a moment, whereas I hate time when it’s passing. There is some part of me in the [clocks] project. There is this love /hate relationship to clock time. We love when it’s 5:00 pm., because it means we stop working, but at the same time, we’re terrified because it feels like clocks are taking time from us. So I designed my clocks for giving you time instead.

TECHNOLOGIST What inspired you for the ‘Disrupting Clocks’?

ANNE SPAA I wanted people to reflect and be aware of the moment they were in, so the idea was to stop time and make them think. In a way, it was still a human-centered approach, fulfilling some kind of need. Then I started looking at objects that were involved in those situations: for example, when we go to bed we set our alarm clocks so they wake us up.

There has always been an urge of controlling time through design, such as in calendars, stopwatches, hour glasses, etc. From this moment, I started to develop the project around objects that try to ‘capture’ time and built and explored a lot of different experience with alarm clocks. I investigated their various functions  to twist this familiar object into something unexpected. From that moment, I let go of the human-centered approach and moved towards the design-centered approach of the project.

The alarm clock ‘7 ½’ is somehow pointing towards hyperactive Millennials that can’t stop working, and maybe sleep only 4-5 hours per night. I chose 7½ because it’s supposed to be the healthier amount of sleep, as I figured it would be impossible to convince them to sleep for 9 hours. Making this object made me realise I was redesigning the alarm clock specifically to fit into the 24/7 society.

The grandfather clock ‘Weekend Alarm’ refers to the same problem: we do not seem to have time for sleep and rest in the 24/7 society. Where I proposed a redesign for the alarm clock, the grandfather clock wants you to take a break in the weekend. It simply hides its clock face with its pendulum, forcing you to let go of clock-time.

TECHNOLOGIST How much do you think design can influence our behaviour or change our habits?

ANNE SPAA  It’s a subtle balance: you have to be strong (and very utopian) in your designer intentions and hope that your work will be used in the way you designed it but you always have to make sure that the object can be used in a different way. With the clocks, I tried to give a direction and a different perspective to clock time, but it’s still up to the user to take that time off. Rather than comforting the user, the object-centered design aims at getting a message through. People reflect on existing objects or artefacts of their lives, and by changing essential features that affect the functionalities of these objects, so you make it look new. So much that this new look will make people question the old one. That’s what James Pierce tried to demonstrate with his exploration of the Counterfunctionnal things. Why are we doing things in a specific way? That’s the question I intend to trigger through my design.

TECHNOLOGIST Have you ever been surprised by someone’s reaction to your clocks?

ANNE SPAA I sent it to two volunteers to use it for a month and only gave them a brief description: you turn it on and the clock will automatically give you 7½ hours of rest and go off again in a chime. When I interviewed one of the two participants, he told me that he would set the alarm but without going to sleep. Basically, he wanted to wake up at 7:30 am., so he set the alarm at midnight, but would only go to bed at 2:00 am. So he actually cheated on the object, which I didn’t expect, as the message is quite strong: it’s like your mum forcing you to go to bed and sleep for 7 and half hours. There is always a way around and that’s the beauty of it. The second participant said that he really liked the design and would love to sleep for seven and a half hours, but he didn’t believe the clock could change his habits and his relationship to time and his perspective on reaching deadlines.

TECHNOLOGIST What feedback did you get from the Dutch Design Week?

ANNE SPAA Let’s say that 100% of the people have a relationship to time, and some people can’t really live without a watch. So it was interesting to exchange thoughts with the visitors about their own experience or relation to time. Most of the people were interested in getting some time off, and my proposition is rather simple and effective. At least, I wanted to communicate that in the clearest way as possible. I got pretty surprised, as it is a philosophical subject, but when the pendulum of the Grandfather Clock went up to cover the clock face and people started laughing, that was the sign that they got it and that was nice for me to see their reactions!

Even if I work within object-centered design, I still take the users’ feedback into great consideration. I made a promise to myself that I would present something every year at the DDW, which I managed so far, so I hope to participate in 2017.

TECHNOLOGIST Maybe with another disrupting clock?

ANNE SPAA Not impossible: as it is a series of objects, it leaves the door open to other creations…or disruptions, and I could actually redesign many more clocks based on the feedback I got from the visitors of the Dutch Design Week.

Interview by Julie Boénec

► Anne’s website:


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