Expressing Temporality In GUI

In this design research, I examined various temporal processes of the living world (frosting, blooming, wearing and tearing, etc), and how they may be manifested in the design of GUI to convey traces of time.

Read the full design research

Abstract expression of blooming on iOS icon

Research Gap

Today, in light of designing GUI, interaction researchers and designers are concerned with the relationship between people and GUI. They usually describe this relationship as a series of ”momentary interactions”. Upon designing these ”momentary interactions” derived from a user-centred design approach, the potential richness of wholesome experiences seemed forgotten. The GUI simply appeared ’shiny and new’ upon interaction. Whilst you and I, and our interactions change over time, the GUI simply does not.

In reality, changes are made under continual conditions, whereas our interaction with a medium influences it as it influences us. This probes the concept of continuity in Human-Computer Interaction, and ”thinking of interaction over time rather than at momentary points”.

Design Opportunity

What separates these ”momentary interactions” from ’prolonged experiences’ is time. I turned to nature for answers. The withering of a tree, a sunset, the growth of an ivy plant-encroaching on a building. Just as how animations mirror the motion of objects in the living world, what if GUI was to mirror the time of the living world?

Design Process

What temporal metaphors are there? And how are traces of time manifested in the design of temporal metaphors in Graphical User Interface?

Through imagery and videos, I articulated the ’living essence’ of each temporal process. In this sense, I materialized each temporal process into material qualities in consideration of its significance and meaning in the living world, my lived experience. In doing so, these material qualities now described a temporal process metaphorically, a temporal metaphor.


I turned to the question of how it might look and feel in the context of GUI, and made sketches using those material qualities. As I moved from sketching to prototyping experiences I needed to form an experience over time, and sketching was a necessary step as the textual description were not adequate to inspire the design of experiences over time. The outcome of the sketches rather inspired me into three directions: contexts, evolvements, and meanings. From prototyping different experiences and problematizing each artefact to the next, I concluded with findings that I will share. In doing so, these material qualities now described a temporal process metaphorically, a temporal metaphor.

Design thinking process on Miro





Concept Sketching


I approached research through design to address the research question. It was particularly related to my work as my design research was characterized as iterative and explorative, together with designerly reflection and practice as a strategy. Whilst addressing the research question I also explored what happened in the design process through my engagement in the design experiments. In this sense, the creative process and the practice and methods were in focus.

As Research in and through design meant to employ my involvement in design experiments as a key catalyst for knowledge generation, I complimented the approach with Interaction criticism.


On a practical level, one of the reasons for involving myself was to gain access to insights from the design process and establish closeness to the design works, yielding even more rich insights. My participation was a fundamental component of the design process, a practice of engaging with the materials. As my value was as valuable as anybody else’s, I used that relationship to critique each of my design choices. To critique interaction as a form of experience meant to critique back-and-forth between details in the materials and the interpreted whole. This, led me down the argument that the aesthetic or experiential nature of a GUI, for example, may not be fully understood from a user-centred design approach, but analyzed from the lenses of materiality.


The design of temporal metaphors in GUI expressed continuity, this aligned with existing notions of living world phenomena or temporal processes exposing continual change. In the context of GUI, this meant that interactions influence GUI as it influences one. As GUI expresses time as continuous, it paves way for a relationship to be nurtured, another meaning beyond that of its mere functions.

Also, the rich experience of, for example, wearing and tearing in GUI suggests that the GUI is finite and not eternal or unaffected by time. Instead, the felt experience of the relationship is unique and momentary.


This again, paves way for a different meaning in the experience of GUI. GUI may express a sense of history and memory, whereas one lives through GUI. To my belief, this design research has the most significant value in its approach. I have proposed one possibility in how to articulate these temporal forms in the living world, and implementing such temporal forms practically. For interaction designers, the insights of this design research show how another meaning may be implemented in today's functional GUI’s by thinking of interaction over time. Continuous time in GUI conveys meaning in the sense of what was, what is, and what is about to. For researchers, my work is a step closer to understanding long-term interaction processes and contexts, and an invitation for further discussions on temporality in interaction and what it means for tomorrow's GUI.