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I am designing a website where a clock has to be placed in the website to tell the time.

I have to choose between an Analog Clock and a Digital Clock assuming both take up the same space on the website.

Analog Clock

enter image description here

Digital Clock

enter image description here

Are there any differences between choosing an Analog Clock or Digital Clock beside what I have suggested?

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How about not trying to simulate a real-world-thing and simply print the time in bigger letters 05:52:03? –  Uwe Keim Mar 12 '14 at 21:38
Folks objected to my calling this an answer, so I'm making it a comment: Since this is a User Experience discussion, and since we're talking about software, I want to challenge the assumption that you "have to choose". It'd be easy enough to let the user select between these representations, and in many (though not all) cases they will know which representation better meets their needs than you will. They may even want to switch back and forth depending on the task at hand. That may be too complex for some users so pick a default, but flexibility is a better user experience than either. –  keshlam Mar 12 '14 at 22:27
Why does a clock have to be in the website? On all default platforms, desktop and mobile, there is a clock in the users local time visible at all times. Why do they need another? –  Lego Stormtroopr Mar 13 '14 at 3:32
Before we choose which design is the best, I think its more interesting to know the REASON for putting the clock there. What purpose does it serve for the user, knowing the time? I mean, is this for a booking/calendar/schedule system? or is it just a screensaver? or what kinda system is this designed for? When we know the context, it becomes easier to choose the right layout/design. –  BerggreenDK Mar 13 '14 at 17:20
Also, these may not be the only two options. If the current time is relevant to the task at hand, there may be other ways to display it, for example many calendar apps will show the current time as a highlighted line across the day view. –  Wossname Mar 14 '14 at 3:25

13 Answers 13

I would argue the answer is neither.

Firstly, your assumption that an analog and digital clock take up the same space is wrong.

Analog clocks are circular, and fit a square, while digital clocks are more rectangular, unless you intend to have an unintuitive layout. Allowing a user to pick one or the other means having wasted negative space horizontally around the analog clock or vertically around the digital clock.

Secondly, it is very unlikely that a user of a web application will need a clock in your application. You are going to need to have a text based version of the tiem for non-sighted users, and as a fail-over in non-Javascript environments.

Thirdly, all users (except power users who have disabled a clock) will have a clock visible by default at almost all times. This is guaranteed to be accurate for the user across timezones and daylight savings changes. Does the user really need another clock?

Windows MacOS Ubuntu Android iPhone

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> Secondly, it is very unlikely that a user of a web application will need a clock in your application. For local time, that's correct. But there is an exception for server time, which can be significant - StackExchange is one such example; they use UTC for a new day (reputation, etc.) and therefore display time in UTC so the user does not have to look elsewhere. –  Bob Mar 13 '14 at 9:27
@Bob StackExchange doesn't have a clock anywhere that I've seen. It has text-based timestamps for things everywhere, but no clocks per se. –  Lego Stormtroopr Mar 13 '14 at 12:29
@LegoStormtroopr The SE timestamp is effectively a clock - if you watch it for a while you'll notice it updates itself (every 60 seconds, actually). It shows the current time, therefore it is a clock. But even if it only reflected the time at page load, it would still be useful in the same way. And my point would still stand, with many other examples available. –  Bob Mar 13 '14 at 12:50
@LegoStormtroopr Just in case you were referring to the question/comment/answer/edit timestamps and are unaware of the clock, yes, it exists. –  Bob Mar 13 '14 at 12:57
@Bob You are confusing display with intent. The SE timestamp's purpose is not to tell you what time of day it is. It's not something you would ever look at to, say, determine that you have an appointment in 10 minutes. The timestamp's purpose (and the UTC clock's purpose) is to give you an idea of the relative time that an event on the site occurred, and it is a useful piece of relevant information to that effect. Its presence is not a justification for the usefulness of time-telling clocks on web sites. UI should match intent. –  Jason C Mar 14 '14 at 0:51

It depends on what is more vital for users — «love to retrostyle» or effectiveness (speed of reading without mistakes).

The following illustration from Handbook of Aviation Human Factors represents how effective are digital visualizations of altitude in comparison with classic analog gauges both for expert and novice users:

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I'd argue that this comparison doesn't apply to the standard analogue clock, precisely because it's standard. When there are multiple possible different analogue readings for altitude evaluated, then it's no surprise that people will need some time to understand what's going on (even AAF pilots – but I'd conjecture that a pilot who's always flown a single plane will be able to read its particular altimeter much faster). Analogue clocks are so omnipresent that everyone knows immediately what they say, even before the eyes have focused as much as they'd need to process a digital reading. –  leftaroundabout Mar 14 '14 at 18:45
Also, I find this source questionable solely on grounds of exact-zero time appearing there. How is that supposed to be possible? The nerves alone have a finite transmission speed. –  leftaroundabout Mar 14 '14 at 18:48
For yet another thing (sorry about the comment spamming), time is much better suited than altitude for an analogue clock because it's not decimalised, so there are naturally right angles at 3-hours / 15-minutes steps. For the same reason, it's harder to read from a digital presentation. –  leftaroundabout Mar 14 '14 at 18:53
Skydivers endlessly argue this point, it's great to have the data above. –  Charles Wesley Mar 14 '14 at 19:27
Does a skydiver ever need to know that they're at exactly 8152 ft? Won't it have changed anyway by the time they've finished reading it? It feels like what they really need is a rough idea of how long it'll be until it's time to pull the chute, and a severe warning if that time has well passed -- neither of which requires a displayed altitude. (Phrased otherwise, this answer only talks about measured time to read, forgetting about the time to interpret.) –  me22 Mar 15 '14 at 2:49

It may depend on how the time is used.

If it is needed for accuracy, then digital is a better choice. It is possible to get an accurate read from a digital display without having to look at and interpret the hour hand, minute hand, and second hand (all separately).

If, however, the clock is used to show a quick estimation of time, analog might be better. It's easy to see approximately 'quarter after' without having to parse the numbers, unlike on a digital display.

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Analog is also good for showing durations. For example, if you show a colored-in pie slice on the analog clock as it ticks away (either growing or shrinking, depending on need), the user can get a more visual representation of the passage of time. One example of such use might be a timed test. –  Brian S Mar 14 '14 at 4:49

For a website, the digital clock is likely to be better.

  • Assuming that your website has a global audience, and you want to display the time in the server's time zone, the analog clock would not be able to convey the AM/PM distinction.
  • If you needed to display the date as well, it would be more natural to do so with a digital clock (again important if the user is in a remote time zone).
  • A digital clock is a bit easier to implement on a web page.

That said, you haven't stated exactly why you need a clock on your website, so it's impossible to provide specific advice.

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I would definitely go with the digital as

A) It's easier to read at a glance as other posters have mentioned

B) It appears to be by far the most common/expected way of digitally showing the time across all digital platforms (other than perhaps a retro look on a mobile lock screen)

C) I know you said 'assuming they take the same space on the website' but the digital would take less space without any loss of clarity.

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I don't know if I agree with point A. It may be easier to read the numbers of a digital clock, but that doesn't necessarily equate to being able to read it as the time. That takes some cognitive processing. "07:47, ok that means it's just gone past quarter-to 8" –  JonW Mar 13 '14 at 9:21
@JonW I agree - I'm not just uncertain, I outright disagree with A. I learned to tell time on an analog clock and have to translate a digital clock to analog in my head, as I use the shape the hands make to understand what the current time is. –  Izkata Mar 13 '14 at 16:24
That may be your experience, but is it representative of the majority of website visitors? The prevalance of digital format implies this is now the accepted norm. Also I learned to tell time on an analog clock, but when digital became widespread I moved to it quickly and now take far longer to read an analog clock. –  Raff3000 Mar 14 '14 at 10:50

Remember that the time by itself is useless. The fact that it's 18:55 is, without context, unhelpful.

What do you want them to do with the time? Does 18:55 mean "the market is closed"? Does it mean "5 minutes until your next meeting"?

Don't force your users to do time math in their heads.

(And if you really do need to show the time, for some reason, consider buying a clock and putting it in the room. That way multiple people can use it at once, and it doesn't take up screen space.)

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+1 For "buy a clock" –  Lego Stormtroopr Apr 10 '14 at 6:50

What you need to ask is, why do you need the clock in the website - what does it represent?

Also, will the clock display the user's system time or time in a different timezone?

  • If you only need to give the sense of time, use the analog clock

  • If you want the user to keep track of how much time they have spent looking at something, then use the digital clock

Also, I will end this by putting this across, that even though the digital clock face was invented so many years ago, even the new watch faces we see everyday are mostly a derivative of the analog one. Even on digital watches like "Pebble" and "metawatch" you see Analog watch faces being more popular than the digital ones - says that people prefer analog over digital any day

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Go digital. Don't use seconds and include the day and the date like on an iPhone. Include the option to switch 12\24 hour. At least remove the second hand if you decide to go analog. Find something that doesn't mimic a LCD from the eighties (that look hurts my brain).

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I partly agree. An analog clock has the disadvantage of not showing the difference between morning and afternoon. I don't agree with omitting the second hand: adding it actually shows that the clock is not a static image, but a live clock. –  Bart Gijssens Mar 13 '14 at 7:42
For a web-site clock, going digital will in many cases make it easier for someone to tell at a glance how the time the web site compares with either the local time on the computer, or a stated time (e.g. "orders placed before 7pm cst ship same day"). Showing a digital clock which reads "6:45pm" would make it clear the user has 15 minutes to prepare an order; showing an analog clock would require the user translate either the "7pm" to analog format or recognize analog clock to "quarter to 7" to do the comparison, unless the analog clock included a visual indication of time remaining. –  supercat Mar 14 '14 at 16:51

It all depends on what you're trying to accomplish in showing the time. As pointed out before, almost every screen on every device is already showing the local time (usually digital). Are you showing a different time zone? Are you showing remaining time until some event? In other words, is there a need for a different time?

The next question is, are you trying to show a time precisely, perhaps to the second, or does the viewer just need to know if it's time for lunch? A subset of this is whether the viewer is interested in time intervals (time until X), or just the current time? I wear an analog wristwatch with a digital day-of-month, because I usually don't need to know the precise time to the second, but I often have a need to know an approximate interval: "It's about 30 minutes to lunch. I'm 5 minutes overdue for a meeting. 3/4 of an hour to quitting time.". Etc. By position of the hands, and where they "need" to move to, I can quickly tell an interval. Long ago I wore a trendy digital wristwatch, and I had to stop and do math to figure out an interval. However, the date in digital form is useful, as I usually want to know that precisely, rather than interpolating between marks (as with some fancy chronometers).

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I have to say I agree with @LegoStormtroopr; ideally neither. However if you need a server clock etc I would strongly reccomend the digital clock.

An alarming amount of people can't read analouge clock; even less can read it quickly.

Some links that support this

"Calling time on analogue clocks" (Yes, a Daily Mail link but valid point)

Poll on the matter

BBC (sort of related)

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If you "have to" choose, digital is best, because it will be instantly understandable by more people. Standalone clocks are getting rarer, and it's easier to attach a digital clock to a device. Watches are also becoming rarer, as people just use the cell phone they always have with them. And most cell phones are digital.

I agree with other reasons to pick digital, as digital is indeed what is expected. I also agree that, if the space is the same, you might as well allow the user to choose, as apparently there are still some people who prefer analog clocks. But I'd still use digital as the default.

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I would disagree with most of this because it's a bit too subjective. 'Digital is instantly understandable by more people' - Really? Mechanical / analog clocks have been around for centuries and exist around the world. Digital clocks have only been around for a few decades. Also, why do you say that digital is 'more expected'? –  JonW Mar 13 '14 at 9:17
@JonW Unless you're centuries old, it doesn't really matter what was around back then. It's more important what was common when you grew up. –  CodesInChaos Mar 13 '14 at 19:05
And I'd bet you that when the first analog clocks appeared some old grump wanted to know what was wrong with sundials. :) –  Allen Gould Mar 13 '14 at 20:52

Depends on the demographic I guess. Mature audiences would prefer analog hands as opposed to a website targeted for younger generation would benefit from a digital interface. I personally would present one interface as the default (say analog) and give the user the ability to switch to the other.

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Welcome to the site, @Nadee. Do you have any evidence to support these assertions? –  3nafish Mar 21 '14 at 3:45
Hi 3nafish, It has worked for me to present a default to the user and giving the ability to switch to another if the user prefers so. –  Nadee Mar 24 '14 at 4:16

sorry for beautiful analog clock, but the way "Don't make me think" is more favorable for Digital. And in this case, you have PM display with two number for the hours, you haven't with Analog clock

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