Making A Digital Clock A Little More Intuitive

Digital clocks are extremely useful and generally considered pretty easy to read. However, they can sometimes have rather arcane interfaces for setting the time and alarms. For [Michael Wessel], he noted that in the 1980s he had to routinely help his grandparents set their clocks for this very reason. That inspired his most recent project – a digital clock that’s intuitive to use.

Many digital clocks work in the same way, in which a digit of the time is set, before another button is pressed to cycle to the next digit. This can get confusing, so [Michael] went a different way. Instead, each digit can be cycled through using its own button, which can make things easier. It’s not readily apparent how one chooses to set the time, date, or alarm, but it’s an interesting take on how to create such an interface.

The clock relies on an Arduino Mega to run the show, with an RTC for timekeeping and a temperature sensor to boot. There’s also a sound sensor, which allows the alarms to be shut off with the clap of a hand or by shouting “STOP” at the alarm. Overall, it’s a tidy build with that hacker-favourite seven-segment aesthetic. Of course, you can take that very concept to its extremes, too. Video after the break.

19 thoughts on “Making A Digital Clock A Little More Intuitive

  1. It has been so long since I’ve seen a digital clock set by cycling the digits that I’d almost forgotten the tech had ever existed.

    An hour button and a minute button seems pretty ubiquitous on all basic clocks these days. Any change from that is pretty counter-intuitive. As you say in the article, it’s not very intuitive. There’s always the option to forgo setting the clock and include a network module or GPS rather than the RTC. It is an interesting build and clock projects are always fun.

    1. Think of an actual digital wristwatch. Most of them one button when pressed cycles the functions, when held enters programming mode, and in programming mode it cycles through all the digits and functions. Finally another changes the values that are blinking.

      Man we are spoiled nowadays.

  2. Having to “set” a clock is a bit of an anachronism (my clocks set themselves).

    If you really want to do it right manually though, include a knob with a rotary encoder. It’s a great interface that gives excellent coarse/fine control, and is completely intuitive.

  3. Agree with additional rotary encoder. Would be a good addition! And retro enough that it fits the clock’s theme as well – I first saw rotary encoders around in 1987 or so in Waldorf Microwave synthesizers I believe.

  4. Three buttons for all features
    Mode displayed on 4-digit display

    1. Select function to be modified
    2. Increment / up
    3. Decrement / down.
    Timeout after 5-10 secs of inactivity

    Set time
    Alarm time
    Step up to daytime brightness
    Step down to evening brightness
    Brightness change slope speed
    (more could be added)

  5. I am sorry but if you are too thick to figure out how to set a common digital clock I am surprised you are smart enough to feed yourself or use a flush toilet. God forbid even trying to read an analog clock. If the clock he built has a thermometer built in I hope it has a text display so it can say “wear a jacket” or “shorts might be a good idea” Them numbers on a thermometer can be awfully confusing.

  6. Does anyone remember just zipping fast and v e r y s l o w forward only buttons to set time? Oops went too far go around again. It was like a timing game not to overshoot.

    I have a big foot long 4 digit clock that once hawked cigarettes at the chain convenience stores. Big display and those 2 buttons that’s all. With no way to zero it we still used it as a stage clock for New Years 1999 till 11:58. Unplug at t minus one wait for the house to go… plug back in for one minute with it flashing 12:00. Party like it’s 2000. I since modded the chip’s pins with extra modes to zero it to WWV till they take it away, and grid timing corrections.

    1. You can switch between F and C display :-) I am from Europe… so ;-) Actually, it doesn’t AM / PM mode either yet. Which would be required for an US market.

  7. for intuitive operation, check out the lexon flip alarm clock. It has an ON side and an OFF side. You flip the clock to choose between alarm on and alarm off. When it’s on OFF, the H and M buttons on the back adjust the time. On ON it shows the alarm time and the buttons work to adjust the alarm time.

    1. Alright, just checked it out – the “lexon flip alarm clock” is a great project and idea, but it seems that idea doesn’t generalize well to 7 individual alarms – maybe a polyhedron with 2^7 = 128 faces would do, but then you would also need a lot of displays ;-)

  8. dude there is nothing intuitive in using the mm/dd/yyyy date format. dd/mm/yyyy or yyyy/mm/dd is intuitive since it diplays the information sorted by the size of the units (day < month < year).

    1. Well, not in the US:


      “In the United States, dates are traditionally written in the “month-day-year” order, with neither increasing nor decreasing order of significance. This order is used in both the traditional all-numeric date (e.g., “1/21/16” or “01/21/2016”) and the expanded form (e.g., “January 21, 2016″—usually spoken with the year as a cardinal number and the day as an ordinal number, e.g., “January twenty-first, twenty sixteen”), with the historical rationale that the year was often of lesser importance. The most commonly used separator in the all-numeric form is the slash (/), although the hyphen (-) and period (.) have also emerged in the all-numeric format recently due to globalization. The Chicago Manual of Style discourages writers from writing all-numeric dates in this format, since it is not comprehensible to readers outside the United States.[5]”

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