Hypothetical design question: upon snoozing an alarm, should the alarm grow progressively louder or softer?

Case for louder: you’ve been snoozing too much; wake up now.

Case for softer: maybe you really don’t want to wake up, so the alarm use that hint and eventually should stop bothering you.

This is a design question, a broader UI question, with no correct answer — I'm just curious what you think. It's entirely hypothetical, I don't make alarm clocks. But there are interesting parallels between this use case and notification systems used in desktop UIs, web UIs, and especially mobile UIs.

  • 5
    I suggest your "Case for softer" isn't relevant. Alarm clocks have an OFF button for the case where you don't really want to get up. Hitting snooze means "I do want to get up ... just not now."
    – Bevan
    Nov 17, 2010 at 0:23

6 Answers 6


I would say it should get progressively louder. There have been very few times when I have set an alarm with no purpose. However, there have been many times when I have hit the snooze button when I shouldn't have due to poor decision making skills in a semi-sleep state. Trust the alert person setting the alarm, not the half-conscious person trying to ignore it.

As an aside, if any people who actually make alarms are reading this, please, please, PLEASE set the snooze interval to 10 minutes instead of 9. Also, allow people to decrement the time when setting it so that if they go past their target time, they don't have to cycle through the entire set of numbers again. Both of those aspects drive me nuts.

Edit: I can't help but point this out: The Wake n' Bacon Alarm Clock. When in doubt, bacon makes the best UI.

  • 6
    Well put: Trust the alert person setting the alarm, not the half-conscious person trying to ignore it.
    – Bevan
    Nov 17, 2010 at 0:21
  • 1
    Related article: youarenotsosmart.com/2010/10/27/procrastination - "now you" is trustworthy whereas "future you" is not.
    – Rahul
    Nov 17, 2010 at 17:46
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    Marked as the accepted answer for that single sentence: "Trust the alert person setting the alarm, not the half-conscious person trying to ignore it." (though of course the rest of the answer is equally insightful.) Nov 18, 2010 at 5:25

If I were to design an alarm clock, I would make it neither louder nor softer. Instead, I would go for shorter and shorter snooze periods, until it refuses to snooze anymore.

I can't really see a case for a softer alarm, including the one that you described. As for louder, there are many situations were louder will wake up others, e.g. a roommate or children in the adjacent room.

There is, of course, the "ultimate" alarm clock if you really want to wake up: the flying alarm clock. It sends a propeller flying across the room and won't shut up until you get out of bed, find the propeller, and put it back. :-)

alt text

  • I prefer the Clocky (nandahome.com) personally: it has a friendly "face" and the location the sound comes from moves as it roll around in the flat, so it's more likely to wake me up than a static position.
    – wildpeaks
    Jan 6, 2011 at 14:50

Toward the link with notification system, you should evaluate the criticity of the event you notify to the user... Can your user (and the whole system) afford your user stay in bed.

A research paper asking to rate potential feature on alarm clock shows growing louder is often required (but not in top answers). Sadly, they do not ask for a decreasing alarm...

Human Factors Design Considerations of Alarm Clocks, Raymond W. Lim, Michael S. Wogalter, proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society annual meeting, 2002


Try the later android phones' "smart alarm" that progressively gets louder 3/5/10 minutes before the set alarm. It slowly wakes you with a peaceful tune and I find myself much less likely to hit snooze then fall asleep. Nifty.

(I would add this as a comment if I had the rep)


I'd like to add to the question: what about the start of the alarm? The same question can be asked for when it sounds for the first time. Gradual wakeup or Instant wakeup.

@jonty twittered about wanting to build one that actually works: http://wiki.hackspace.org.uk/wiki/AlarmClock

  • You should, perhaps, ask this as a separate question referencing this one. Though it's more likely to be closed as off topic.
    – ChrisF
    Nov 16, 2010 at 19:56

It should do neither but wake you up at the right time in your sleep cycle.

http://www.wakemate.com have a solution that is quite ingenious.

  • What do you do when your natural sleep cycle is not in sync with "regular" hours that the rest of the world follows ? :/
    – wildpeaks
    Jan 6, 2011 at 14:47

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