Alarming Design

Recently, I was looking for an alarm clock for my bedroom. The requirements from a functional perspective were basic – a simple digital clock that would be visible in the dark. I wanted to avoid having a radio for an alarm as I really have no use for any more radios in my home. A basic buzzer for the alarm is what I prefer. From a form perspective, I was looking for something that didn’t occupy too much space and looked sleek. Anything unique looking would be a bonus. Price wise, something under $50 would be reasonable but as a sucker for good design I would be willing to pay more if I found something unique that just nailed it.

I did my usual searches online and found pages and pages of clocks. I found basic clocks alright but reviewers complained about them not keeping accurate time. Accurate time is sort of a basic requirement for a alarm clock in my books. That led me to atomic clocks that could keep accurate time but then most of them had LCD displays that did not seem conducive to being viewed in the dark. And then there were many multi-featured contraptions i.e. weather clocks, talking clocks, projection clocks and clocks that dock your iphone. Everything but a simple, basic well designed alarm clock that would be visible in the dark.

I didn’t expect it to be so hard to find a simple clock with minimalistic design. No – I don’t think I was being finicky as a friend suggested (“You know what you need to do is go shop in Europe someplace”) . I see no reason why good minimalistic design shouldn’t be more ubiquitous and affordable. What seems to be happening is that design today is largely being driven by cost. So consequently you’ve basically got the cheap product and the expensive product.

Cheap products try to cut costs by keeping the feature set to a minimal. This is not a bad thing but it would be great if they just did what they were supposed to well. For example, this clock would have done the trick for me but the reviewers said it did not keep proper time. I bought one and they were right. It apparently does not use a crystal oscillator! Wow that shaved what …2 whole cents?!  And then cheap also inevitably means a plastic finish that is non-durable. So many product I have bought fall apart out after just a few weeks of use. What a complete waste of resources.

On the other hand, you have products that manufacturers want to charge more money for. In that case the inclination then is to pack the product with multiple features or come up with some unique angle. For $59  you could get one that has “completely independent seven-day wake schedules – his and hers” or $89 will get you a clock with a “jet lag reduction option” (plays soothing sounds).  Great – just what I don’t need. To top it all the UI for all these products is not intuitive and you will be hard pressed to find something that is not built out of cheap plastic.

I just think we are headed down the wrong track. I get the economics of mass production and all that but still there have to be more companies out there producing well designed products with the right mix of minimalistic/adequate function combined with a simple *and* durable form.

What do you guys think? What would your specs for a minimal alarm clock be? Why did you pick the alarm clock you did? Do you have a specific brand or company that you would hold up as a model of good design?

P.S. If you are curious about the picture up top. That is the Timex ball alarm clock I bought. Small footprint. No radio – just like I wanted. Looked kind of cool. Cost all of $8. Did not have LEDs for night time visibility but I decided to overlook that since it did have a backlight. Of course this meant it had to be close to my bed as it had to be tapped to turn on the backlight. Turned out to be absolutely useless. The plastic finished ball with a flat bottom was not weighted adequately at the bottom. So every time I tapped it, the darn thing would flip over to assume a more neutral but useless position.

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