When was it decided that adding a clock was good UX for everything? Sitting here in my office, I can see a clock on my desktop, a clock on my iPod, a clock on my phone, and an actual clockwork clock on the wall.

I open my browser and plenty of websites (mostly news sites) proudly present the current time, mostly in digital, but sometimes with a fancy analog Javascript clockface. I open a few applications and the time blinks at me from the status bar.

At home, there's a clock on my TV, on my microwave, my hi-fi, my DVD player, set-top box... (please don't burgle me). Since I always unplug these things, they always blink midnight; which raises an interesting question about clocks vs eco usage guidance.

There is a clock on my car's dashboard and its radio. That's just silly, really.

There's old clocks atop spires and towers in town (fair enough, historically useful), and more, new clocks decorating half the shops and buildings closer to the ground.

Why are clocks so ubiquitous? They're certainty useful, I'm not sure they're so useful that I can turn 360 degrees and get the time 4 times to a five-minute degree of error. Do we have to keep an eye on it incase it stops? Will it start going backwards if everyone stops paying attention?

So why is adding a clock seen as a good UX addition in so many varying situations?

  • 6
    This is funny ! Commented May 17, 2013 at 16:01
  • 2
    Displaying time is the designer's way of shouting "My gadget is useful - it may be a lousy kettle, but it tells you it is 12:16..." Commented May 17, 2013 at 16:17
  • 1
    I like the vast number of different UI ways that you set the time on all these different clocks.
    – PhillipW
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 18:19
  • 1
    Agreed. I have an alarm clock that has the button to change the hours on the right and the button to change minutes on the left. Directly under the display. Wonderful UI design!
    – Kai
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 18:43
  • 1
    Steve Ballmer Windows 1 commercial: "It's got a clock!!!" (youtube.com/watch?v=tGvHNNOLnCk @0:26) Commented May 19, 2013 at 18:26

4 Answers 4


Many many devices use time for various functions, from recording shows on DVD, to automatically starting your coffee at a specific time, to sounding an alarm. Most devices of wildly differing types are not compatible with each other. That is to say, my phone generally doesn't talk to my coffee machine, and neither of them interface with my DVD player. As such each device has to have its own time keeping device.

Further it's worth noting that many devices that have timers/delays that aren't key to specific times will end up with clocks because adding the functionality has little extra cost. That is, if you've got a display that can show time, and an internal clock in a device that can keep time, why not go ahead and show what time it is on the display when you aren't doing "more important things".

For your car example you have two unrelated devices. If you don't have a radio that shows the time (not all of them do, though exceptions are rare) having the dashboard show the time is useful. Not all cars have dashboard clocks (though again, exceptions are rare) so having a clock on the radio is also useful. If the radio was "standard" for your car, then they would be much less likely to duplicate function ... though of course with different people designing different parts it's still a possibility.

  • 2
    +1 "adding the functionality has little extra cost." Nice answer, there's definitely the case that all the devices don't talk to each other and it's not like the companies developing things are all on the phone to each other asking who'd going to have the kitchen clock on their device.
    – Kai
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 17:45
  • I am interested to know though why clocks are also on things that do not already have a timing device naturally or aren't otherwise involved in timekeeping - clocks on shop fronts for example are a particularly noticeable case.
    – Kai
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 17:46

Clocks, time and dates are the perfect context for idle screens. And most of the devices you described facilitate a screen for accompanying their operation. Just a simple thought :)


It's good in that it lets you quickly have access to the time regardless of what you are doing right now without having to stop and find a clock, or even look away from what you're doing.

Driving? Having the time available on the dash means slightly less distraction than having to look to one side to look at the radio. Passenger changing the radio station? They can see the time without having to peer over to your dash.

Then of course there are devices that need to know the time as part of their functionality, and you need to know if the time is wrong without actually using it. If your DVR is set to record a show at 18:30, you might not go near the DVR until later. If however there was a power cut and the time got set to 00:00 you'd need to know to adjust it or you won't get your program saved.


There are a lot of benefits if you think knowing the time is very important. Having it everywhere makes this more convenient. As far as devices displaying the time, it is functional. The alarm goes off or your show starts to record at the the wrong time, you'll know why after you notice the device's time is wrong. Instead of just a power on light, it could be a sign to the user, "hey, I'm still working."

I don't know if as a culture many people have reached the point you have and feel there are too many time displays. Several people I know, don't wear a watch anymore since they carry their cell phone all the time. There are many devices that have a setting to not display the time (my computer, cable box, etc.). It costs more to add these and there needs to be better interfaces to make these settings instead of plodding through a series of setup screens. Most people don't bother or just give up and leave the time display.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.