analog vs. digital display of time

20 Sep 2005 - 12:27am
9 years ago
14 replies
2105 reads
mprove
2004

Hi there,

my hypothesis is that an analog display (of time) is more easy to perceive than the digital equivalent using numbers; esp. if the user is fully mentally occupied with another important task.

A related example would be the speed display in cars. A needle on the tachometer seems to be the favorite design.

Does anyone have data to support my theory -- or the opposite?

thanks
Matthias

--

User Experience and Interaction Designer :: http://www.mprove.de

Comments

20 Sep 2005 - 3:59am
Sharad Solanki
2005

In some of the dashboard application interfaces I have seen the usage of graphic dials with pin more than any competitive digital display. I tried using analog dials with the accurate numbers and that seems to work fine.

Sharad Singh Solanki
SAS

20 Sep 2005 - 4:00am
Tadej Maligoj
2004

I am regulary driving two cars, one with a needle and one with a
number display. I did get used on number display. It is easier to me
to compare numbers on the sign of speed limit and the number on the
speed meter than finding which number the needle is pointing to.

It think this example does not compare to ususal use of time scale very well.

Best,

Tadej

On 9/20/05, Ola Thörn <olathorn at yahoo.se> wrote:
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> Perhaps there could be a difference between time/speed
> here.
>
> When you visualize 14:15 digitally this form of
> representation does not give you feedback on that
> 23:59 is the end of the scale. Logically time could
> continue to 99:99. However if we assume that you know
> how to read the time I think digital works just about
> as fine as analog although digital display is easier
> to get the "exact time" with.
>
> With speed few cars (unfortunately) goes up to 999
> km/h . With an ordinary analog display the speed meter
> shows the end of the scale(although not all cars goes
> this high).
>
> With analog speed meters in cars we get two advantages
> - we visualise the end of the scale in a clear way. We
> get a feedback on the acceleration which is easier to
> read than fast flipping digital numbers.
>
> I used to have a microwave with analog display of time
> (in terms of maximum 60 min). Now I have one with
> digital display. The salesman sold it to me with the
> argument - it is more exact (although I bought it due
> to it's clean look)! Yet I found the old one easier
> to use.
>
>
> /Ola Thörn
>
> --- Matthias Mueller-Prove <mprove at acm.org> skrev:
>
> > [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only
> > relevant quoted material.]
> >
> > Hi there,
> >
> > my hypothesis is that an analog display (of time)
> > is more easy to perceive than the digital equivalent
> > using numbers; esp. if the user is fully mentally
> > occupied with another important task.
> >
> > A related example would be the speed display in
> > cars. A needle on the tachometer seems to be the
> > favorite design.
> >
> > Does anyone have data to support my theory -- or the
> > opposite?
> >
> > thanks
> > Matthias
>
> Vänligen Ola
> _______________________________________________
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--
_______________________________
Tadej Maligoj, Information Architect
e1: tadej.maligoj at gmail.com
e2: studio at maligoj.com
m: 031 306 986
w: www.maligoj.com

20 Sep 2005 - 7:45am
Gerard Torenvliet
2004

Matthias:

I don't know of any research that indicates that the analog display of
time is easier to perceive than digital displays. It seems quite
reasonable that analog displays would make for easier perception of
rough estimates of time (accurate to 10 or so minutes) because the hands
on the clock make a visual form that people should be able to attend to
quite easily.

Digital displays are better for applications where precise time readings
are necessary.

In general, analog displays are better than digital displays for at
least three reasons:

1. They show the possible normal limits of measurement.

2. They allow operators to read rough values from the position of a
needle (still, however, precise values if needed should be provided as a
readout). This is effective in the case of a single readout, but
increasingly effective when there are multiple readouts, because
operators can easily see the single indicator that is out of place.

3. They allow operators to perceive trend information - is the value
stable, is it fluctuating about some mean value, is it trending up
slowly or quickly.

For more details on the contrast between digital and analog displays, I
recommend getting a copy of Chris Wickens' "Engineering Psychology and
Human Performance". If there is significant basic research out there
relating to display design, Wickens probably covers it.

Regards,
-Gerard

20 Sep 2005 - 10:11am
Jochen Denzinger
2005

Maybe one should also consider awareness clues and the periphery of
perception.

One advantage of analog visualizations of measurements (analog display
plus watch needle) is that you don't have to read really exactly. You
decipher the content and it’s meaning at a glance, since you know the
scale of the specific instrument/ visualization.

There are examples of watches with only one watch hand/ needle (e.g.
http://de.red-dot.org/322+M52a7ebbf0ff.html). These watches hardly show
you the very precise time, but give a good idea of your "position"
within a day. This might give some information about the context. It
also manifests another idea of meaning of time.

•••

Jochen Denzinger

Am 20.09.2005 um 07:27 schrieb Matthias Mueller-Prove:

> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> Hi there,
>
> my hypothesis is that an analog display (of time) is more easy to
> perceive than the digital equivalent using numbers; esp. if the user
> is fully mentally occupied with another important task.
>
> A related example would be the speed display in cars. A needle on the
> tachometer seems to be the favorite design.
>
> Does anyone have data to support my theory -- or the opposite?
>
> thanks
> Matthias
>
>
> --
>
> User Experience and Interaction Designer :: http://www.mprove.de
> _______________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Group!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixdg.org
> (Un)Subscription Options ... http://discuss.ixdg.org/
> Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixdg.org/
> Questions .................. lists at ixdg.org
> Home ....................... http://ixdg.org/
>

20 Sep 2005 - 12:18pm
Vassili Bykov
2005

A couple of my own impressions about speed indication in cars, in
addition to the usual digital vs analog considerations:

You can see the general position and rate of change of an analog
indicator with peripheral vision, while digital requires taking your
eyes off the road to read.

As digits on a digital speedometer change, they create distracting
flicker in peripheral vision. Maybe with experience your perception
learns to ignore it, but it seems to be a common first impression as I
heard it from other people too.

20 Sep 2005 - 12:37pm
Lynn Miller
2005

I don't think this can be looked at by itself.

It depends on the user: That's why they sell both analog and digital
watches.

It depends on the use: Is accuracy important? Will the clock just be
glanced at for relative position of the hands (e.g. is the hour nearly
up)?

It depends on the location: How much space is a available for the
display? Tiny analog displays tend not to be readable.

As with any design, if you don't know who you are designing for, how
they are going to use it, and what constraints you have, then you can't
pick one design over another.

Lynn

Matthias Mueller-Prove wrote:
> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
> Hi there,
>
> my hypothesis is that an analog display (of time) is more easy to perceive than the digital equivalent using numbers; esp. if the user is fully mentally occupied with another important task.
>
> A related example would be the speed display in cars. A needle on the tachometer seems to be the favorite design.
>
> Does anyone have data to support my theory -- or the opposite?
>
> thanks
> Matthias
>
>

20 Sep 2005 - 12:08pm
Todd Warfel
2003

Tufte actually addresses this in his seminar. One of the advantages
of an analog clock is that there's less mental processing involved.

With an analog clock, you get a quick picture of where you are in
relation to the whole. With digital, you get the "exact time," but
then have to process where that is in relation to the whole.

In the end, it really depends on what your goal is.

Is your goal to see how much time you have left until a given time?
If so, analog will be quicker (less processing for this task).

Is your goal to see exactly what time it is? If so, digital is better
(less processing for this task).
On Sep 20, 2005, at 11:11 AM, Jochen Denzinger wrote:

> One advantage of analog visualizations of measurements (analog
> display plus watch needle) is that you don't have to read really
> exactly. You decipher the content and it’s meaning at a glance,
> since you know the scale of the specific instrument/ visualization.

Cheers!

Todd R. Warfel
Design & Usability Specialist
--------------------------------------
Contact Info
Email: twarfel at mac.com
AIM: twarfel at mac.com
Blog: http://toddwarfel.com
--------------------------------------

20 Sep 2005 - 12:59pm
Katie Albers
2005

One issue that hasn't been addressed yet is that of perceived
precision and accuracy. A digital readout carries with it the
implications that:

1) The reading is absolutely current (that is, for example, that you
are travelling at the displayed speed at the same time that you are
looking at the display).

2) That the reading is absolutely accurate.

Neither of these is necessarily the case. In fact, usually neither of
them is true.

A second problem is that the analog display actually gives more
information than the digital display and in a more easily interpreted
fashion.

When I look at a digital watch that says it is 10:47, that tells me
only what time it is (and that only if my watch is set properly,
running properly, and keeping accurate time). If I have an
appointment at 11:00 I have to go through the process of figuring out
how long I have to get to that appointment. If, on the other hand, I
have an analog watch a single glance tells me both what time it is
and how much time I have before the appointment.

Digital information also requires conscious attention, whereas analog
information can be processed without such conscious attention.

In general, I've found that when it comes to human beings in the
course of their normal life, very few kinds of numeric data are
better displayed digitally than in analog form.

kt

>[Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted material.]
>
>A couple of my own impressions about speed indication in cars, in
>addition to the usual digital vs analog considerations:
>
>You can see the general position and rate of change of an analog
>indicator with peripheral vision, while digital requires taking your
>eyes off the road to read.
>
>As digits on a digital speedometer change, they create distracting
>flicker in peripheral vision. Maybe with experience your perception
>learns to ignore it, but it seems to be a common first impression as
>I heard it from other people too.
>_______________________________________________
>Welcome to the Interaction Design Group!
>To post to this list ....... discuss at ixdg.org
>(Un)Subscription Options ... http://discuss.ixdg.org/
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20 Sep 2005 - 1:11pm
Cullen Newsom
2005

Have any of you ever used the "Fuzzy" option in the clock in the KDE
or Gnome? I liked it because of its imprecision. Sometimes less is
more. I am unlike my Japanese co-workers though, in that they use,
almost exclusively, timepieces that are in radio communication with some
rubidium or cesium clock.

Agrees that analog representation of speed in cars is better than
digital, because you get speed, and acceleration, (even though you
already know if you are accelerating). However, if you are a pilot,
piloting an aircraft, you cannot rely upon your senses to tell you if
you are accelerating, nor the direction of the acceleration. But
neither of these ideas are about clocks.

-CN

20 Sep 2005 - 1:28pm
Peter Bagnall
2003

I found this representation of time interesting. It's a very graphic
analogue representation.

http://www.vendian.org/envelope/dir2/day_of_dots/

This has inspired me to write a calendar viewer based on this idea to
get a day at a glance, but it's on my to-do pile unfinished somewhere!
It's easier to see time periods in this form I think than on a
conventional analogue clock, and clearly more so than a digital.

--Pete

------------------------------------------------------------------------
----
One of the great attractions of patriotism it fulfils our worst wishes.
In the person of our nation we are able, vicariously, to bully and
cheat. Bully and cheat, what's more, with a feeling that we are
profoundly virtuous.
Aldous Huxley

Peter Bagnall - http://people.surfaceeffect.com/pete/

20 Sep 2005 - 1:32pm
Rajesh Sidharthan
2005

So if your watch says 10:47 and you have an appointment at 11:00

1) The digital watch would just tell you the exact time and leaves it to
your mind to figure out how much time is left till 11:00
2) The analog watch will 'show' you how much time is left till 11:00

I think in either case, its always your mind that figures out how much
time is left. I don't think the analog watch does a better job in
telling you how much time is left.
People who are familiar with the concept of time (that there are 60
minutes in an hour) may find it easier to mentally figure out the
remaining time quickly without relying on a device.

</raj>

Katie Albers wrote:

> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
> material.]
>
> One issue that hasn't been addressed yet is that of perceived
> precision and accuracy. A digital readout carries with it the
> implications that:
>
> 1) The reading is absolutely current (that is, for example, that you
> are travelling at the displayed speed at the same time that you are
> looking at the display).
>
> 2) That the reading is absolutely accurate.
>
> Neither of these is necessarily the case. In fact, usually neither of
> them is true.
>
> A second problem is that the analog display actually gives more
> information than the digital display and in a more easily interpreted
> fashion.
>
> When I look at a digital watch that says it is 10:47, that tells me
> only what time it is (and that only if my watch is set properly,
> running properly, and keeping accurate time). If I have an appointment
> at 11:00 I have to go through the process of figuring out how long I
> have to get to that appointment. If, on the other hand, I have an
> analog watch a single glance tells me both what time it is and how
> much time I have before the appointment.
>
> Digital information also requires conscious attention, whereas analog
> information can be processed without such conscious attention.
>
> In general, I've found that when it comes to human beings in the
> course of their normal life, very few kinds of numeric data are better
> displayed digitally than in analog form.
>
> kt
>
>> [Please voluntarily trim replies to include only relevant quoted
>> material.]
>>
>> A couple of my own impressions about speed indication in cars, in
>> addition to the usual digital vs analog considerations:
>>
>> You can see the general position and rate of change of an analog
>> indicator with peripheral vision, while digital requires taking your
>> eyes off the road to read.
>>
>> As digits on a digital speedometer change, they create distracting
>> flicker in peripheral vision. Maybe with experience your perception
>> learns to ignore it, but it seems to be a common first impression as
>> I heard it from other people too.
>> _______________________________________________
>> Welcome to the Interaction Design Group!
>> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixdg.org
>> (Un)Subscription Options ... http://discuss.ixdg.org/
>> Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixdg.org/
>> Questions .................. lists at ixdg.org
>> Home ....................... http://ixdg.org/
>
>
> _______________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Group!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixdg.org
> (Un)Subscription Options ... http://discuss.ixdg.org/
> Announcements List ......... http://subscribe-announce.ixdg.org/
> Questions .................. lists at ixdg.org
> Home ....................... http://ixdg.org/

20 Sep 2005 - 3:07pm
Ben Hunt
2004

I always remember a clock my uncle & aunt had in London, which had only an
hour hand. The face of the clock read simply: "Oneish, twoish, threeish..."
:-)

- Ben

>> Jochen said:
There are examples of watches with only one watch hand/ needle (e.g.
http://de.red-dot.org/322+M52a7ebbf0ff.html). These watches hardly show you
the very precise time, but give a good idea of your "position"
within a day. This might give some information about the context. It also
manifests another idea of meaning of time.

20 Sep 2005 - 3:13pm
Ben Hunt
2004

I drove a Toyota Yaris with a digital readout, and got along with it very
well. (The dash display is also offset to the middle of the dash, so that
it's not directly in front of the driver's eyes, which I also appreciated.)

Surely, when it comes to driving, you:
- Know when you're accelerating/decelerating
- Know when you're going too fast for the road & conditions

The only reason you really *need* a speedometer is to know: "Am I going over
the speed limit?" And possibly: "Just how slow is this idiot in front of me
going?"

In these cases, I find the digital readout is ideal.

However, if you want to make believe you're in a fighter jet, then the
analogue display may be preferable...

- Ben

Vassili said:

A couple of my own impressions about speed indication in cars, in addition
to the usual digital vs analog considerations:

You can see the general position and rate of change of an analog indicator
with peripheral vision, while digital requires taking your eyes off the road
to read.

20 Sep 2005 - 3:45pm
mprove
2004

Hi gang,
thanks for the great discussion and the links to further examples and
articles! Now I feel free, to share the missing piece of the riddle.
The situation at hand is a presenter during her presentation. She
needs information on how much time is left until her slot ends.
I used the presenter mode in Apple's Keynote for some presentations
myself. One among several other auto-discoveries was the digital
timer.

cf. between 2,3 and 4 on the screen at
http://www.apple.com/iwork/keynote/presenter.html
Clock left, count down to the right.

During the presentation I was 87% puzzled about those numberes on the
screen. My mind was blocked by so many other ideas and tasks that I
was unable to 'understand' the display. // BTW, the presentation
went very well after all.

cheers
- Matthias

--

User Experience and Interaction Designer :: http://www.mprove.de

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