Counting On

CONTEXT: RCA & Design Trust Workshop


Press: The Paper CN




This is a co-creation project by me and sailor Peng. Through limited emails and sketch sessions, I worked with a sailor who is constantly trying to kill time on his 8-month sailing trips. I found his perception of time opposite to the norm of trying to make more time in the city life. Together we made a device that can count down from 8-month to 0 or from 0 to 8-month - an attempt to count on each precious day.


About Peng

Peng is a seaman. Last year, he had a long-distance sailing, from east Asia to west Asia and finally arrived in Africa. This sailing took him almost 8 months, then he spent 4 months at home and spent most of the money he earned in this sailing. After this time, he decided to quit long-distance sailing, because this business is unbearable for him. However, if you go follow him on social media, you can only see spectacular sunrise on the sea and how he sailed around the world.



Before you go on, imagine a group of men working together in a closed, cramped space for months. There are no entertainment facilities in this space. You have no way to communicate with the outside world. Your daily work is just some repetitive physical work, and it is no fun. If it is too hard for you to imagine, try sitting in your bed for six hours. You can’t do anything but sit in a daze. This is the most common night for our sailor Peng. He had to go through 240 such nights to get back on land and live the same life as we did.


Design Process


This is a story Peng told me. He made a calendar during his last sailing. He made 240 pages in total and tear one page every day. He told me, he went mad when he realized he only needs to stay for 3 more days. In those 3 days, he only slept for 10 hours and spent all the time imagining what he will do at home. This story really appeals to me because I feel related. When I was young, I did something similar before the summer vacation.


After the discussion, we decided to make the calendar into a countdown, because in this case, the specific date is not important, you just want to know how many days are left. After that, I want to connect this countdown with some daily actions to make it more natural to use. So people other than a sailor can also use it.


After several failed attempts, I realized that combining the countdown with a particular action was too limited to fit most people. So I asked Peng what he thought the purpose of this product should be. He replied that he hoped that the sailors who had been sailing for a long time could also keep their yearning for life and their expectation for the future, instead of spending every day like a walking corpse. This led me to decide to combine the countdown with a goal. It is up to the user to decide what goal she/he wants to put on the hook.


Another story from Peng made us decide to add a little something to the timer. One day, Peng had just finished the night shift. When he walked out of the cab, the sun had just risen from the sea. Seeing the sun rising, he suddenly felt that it was worth the whole night’s work. I added a structure in the timer. Every time it is pulled, a small sun will rise. One small sun will write “add” and the other write “minus”. In this way, the user can understand how to use these two hooks.


After production of the final design, the product was shown at an exhibition in a local fruit shop. Residents in that neighborhood were invited to hear the story of sailor, Peng.