The act of people glancing at watches to tell time is already potentially on its way to extinction, as the devices we rely on as timekeepers aren’t necessarily strapped to our wrists. A new invention introduces an original alternative to looking to phone or watch for the time: The Bradley is an extra-sensory tactile watch that lets users "feel" time.
Hyngsoo Kim, who created the watch, is not an industrial designer—he studied psychology and later received an MBA—but he thinks like one, in that his first product (for his company Eone) is about problem-solving.
Kim’s lack of formal design experience or affiliation underlined the need for him to step out of the studio and engage directly with his prospective audience as research. "The only way I could design anything was to meet person-to-person," he says. Pictures, descriptions, and 3-D renderings wouldn’t work. Each prototype had to be physical and functional, down to the tiniest detail, so that real people could really test it.
So he began cold calling groups that serve the blind, to get his concepts into their hands. The human R&D was, of course, invaluable. "I brought the prototypes to them over and over again so that they told me what to fix and improve," Kim tells Co.Design.
And there was quite an evolution in the products Kim proposed to his testers. His first concept was a Braille watch with a combo of raised dots that changed every single minute. "I put together a team, with MIT engineers, to make this, but it didn’t survive first couple of user meetings," he says. "They were not interested in a watch 'specially designed’ for the blind."
This revelation was a critical step. Kim knew that he would take an inclusive approach and make something that appealed to both sighted and blind users.
He also knew he wanted to address the critical distinctions within the non-sighted community in how they interact with products. Kim learned that most people who have been blind since birth have what he describes as a "crazy good sense of touch," to the degree they can often use their fingers to "read" analog watches customized with a flip-top cover that allows them to feel the hands. (Though he found inconsistent quality here and that these models are easily broken.) People who lost vision later in life tend to have more difficulty with that kind of tactile time telling. They’re left with talking watches that single them out or are rendered useless in any loud, crowded public area. They’re also all but off-limits in quiet environments (think classroom or office space or theater).
So Kim imagined a piece with magnetic ball bearings that rotate around the watch in circular channels: minutes on the face, hours on the outer edge. "When people check time, we look at the minute first because we usually have good sense of the hour," he reasons. "So, when people touch—or see—the minute hand, they know where it is immediately. Then, if you still want to check the hour, you can turn to the hour ball bearing."
The next key moment was a fortuitous introduction to Bradley Snyder, a Navy Seal vet who’d been blinded by an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2011. As Snyder set out to reconcile his new relationship with the world, he also began training to swim in the Paralympics. In less than a year—last summer in London—he sprinted his way to two golds and a silver medal, in a sport in which time is everything. He became an inspiration to and collaborator with Kim and his team, as well as the watch’s namesake and champion.
"I don’t like asking for help," Snyder explains in the Kickstarter video for The Bradley, a must-watch that puts his personal story first, and the product second. (Plus, any watch-related video that kicks off with Michelle Obama introducing your hero is pretty rad.) "Every time I can find something that helps me do something autonomously, it’s very exciting, and I gain that autonomy back a little bit."
The Bradley has gone gangbusters on Kickstarter, pulling in a staggering $200,000 over the projected $40,000 goal with more than a month to go.