Life in a Minute


Project Goals

Through a playful tangible setup, we aimed to embody time into a physical form aimed at encouraging people think mindfully about the value of time. In ‘Life in a minute’ players would be given a limited number of pennies that represent their lifetime and have to invest it into different aspects of their life – family, career, education etc, – all within a minute. When the time is up, the players are given a receipt that indicates how they’ve spent their life which helps them reflect on their experience.


We are all grappling for time and one reason we find it so difficult to understand how we have spent time is because time is intangible. Effectively managing time is the difference between feeling empowered versus overwhelmed. As a team, we were drawn to the idea of representing time physically and creating an experience for users that is open to interpretation once they’ve interacted with the setup.


Brainstorming, Literature Review, Hardware setup, Prototyping


My teammates for the project was Dylan R Fox and Joyce S Lee, who were phenomenal to work with. As part of the team, I participated in the brainstorming sessions and ideating for different ways to embody time. Once we identified the key aspects to our setup, I worked on the setting up the containers required that opened in random.


The final setup was as follows: The participant was given 72 pennies that were dispensed on a conveyor belt. They had to grab coins from the belt and run to the the jars where they had to distribute the coins. Each jar had different labels associated with it - career, family, education, play and community- to represent the different aspects of their life they allocate time to. The participant could choose to put as many coins in any of them. Once the participant’s time was up, each jar was weighed and we calculated the money they had allocated to each of the different activities. The participant was given a receipt which helped them reflect how they had spent their time.

The experiment was accepted as a part the Gallery at EPIC, 2018.


The project started out with an initial idea of representing digital calendars in physical tokens where users can create blocks of time and allocate it to various events they’d like to add. The materiality of the token represented the commitment to the particular event. If the event was concrete, then it would be represented by something hard while flexible events would be represented by something much softer such as clay. The tokens would also include the ability to interact with the user. For instance on completing a task, you could crush the token to feel good that you’ve completed your event.

When we prototyped the above idea we used coins as tokens realized the following:

Figure: Design of the system to setup

Figure: Design of the system to setup

  • Lack of resources that are easy understand the various other opportunities present apart from engineering

  • The setup lacked a sense of urgency when people interacted and was not encouraging people to reflect on their own time

  • We were encouraged to think of the location where the setup would be placed and the feelings we’d like the users to experience while interacting with the setup

  • Using coins provided the scope for a fun interaction

Based on the feedback, we included the gaming element of limiting the time to 1 minute and the users having to finish spending a limited number of pennies in that time. The key areas we focused on included.


Dispensing Coins

An integral part of the setup was to device a mechanism to provide a steady flow of coins for the users such that they can grab it and put it into the various targets that were available. The steady flow of coins was to keep it consistent with the theme that time is always running and you’ve to make the most out of it

Creating Targets

One of the first ideas for creating targets was a screen embedded with sensors that could detect when a coin was thrown at it. However, this method would have a few problems:

  • The clinking noise of the coins falling into a container would be absent and most rooms were had and the coins wouldn’t make a noise as they fell to the ground. As a group, we felt having the element sound will make the interaction more playful as well

  • The setup would be fairly large and would be difficult to move around

We then prototyped with jars that worked well. However, it was fairly easy to put coins into an open jar. In order to represent the uncontrollable circumstances that life presents (For example, even if you have time to spend with family, they might be busy) , we added lids to jar that opened and closed at random times.

Receipt provided to the participant

Receipt provided to the participant

Providing Feedback

At the end of the minute, each participant received a receipt on how they had spent their time. This part of the experiment was to elicit different reactions from those playing the game.

Observation and Takeaways

Over the course of two days, we observed over 25 participants interacting with the setup:

  • The two strategies adopted for collecting coins were – take as many as you can in one go, or make multiple trips between the conveyor belt and jars

  • At the targets end, some participants waited for specific jars to open and were mindful about where they wanted to place their coins, thereby letting go of opportunities of other jars being open, while others put them in any jar that was open.

  • Certain participants played with partners to optimize their results and come up with a strategy to waste minimum amount of time (these participants were also successful.

  • On the whole, the whole interaction was fun-filled and also helped participants reflect after they received their receipt.