A math-less clock for people with cognitive disabilities

Former MIX-master student Gianmarco Caruso has received funding for his project Diem: A Math-less Clock for People with Downs Syndrome and other cognitive disabilities. The funds were given by the University of Bergen’s innovation program UiB idé.
Gianmarco Caruso. Photo: Private.
Publisert: 25. oktober 2021

2021 is the first year of the innovation program UiB idé. The program gives both UiB students and employees a chance to apply for funding. Research projects can receive up to 500 000 NOK, for student projects the amount is 100 000 NOK. This money can help good ideas to become a reality. UiB idé describes innovation as an idea with societal benefits, be new, and that it should be a need for it among certain users or society in general.  

At the Faculty of Social Sciences there was only one student project chosen to receive funding. Master student in media and interaction design Gianmarco Caruso acquired the maximum amount for his project Diem: A Math-less Clock for People with Down Syndrome. Gianmarco made Diem the main topic of his master's thesis in Media and Interaction Design

A new way of showing time 

So what is the project Diem about? According to Caruso, the idea stems from the fact that we conventionally do represent time as a number, a format that is considered very efficient. Regardless, numerical time is also extremely complex. Among people who suffer from math struggles, such as people with Down Syndrome, Dyscalculia, Dementia, or Alzheimer’s, is extremely common to not be able to understand mathematical time. And the lack of any alternatives, generally means that such individuals are prevented from making self-aware choices, developing independence, understanding future and its implications, as well as establishing their own dignity.  

Diem is a prototype of a mobile app that allows people with math impairments to understand the passage of time and does so by representing the time as a visual, physical metaphor – as opposed to traditional clocks that addresses time only as an implicitly mathematical concept, often as a number. In Diem, time is displayed to the user as an illustrated journey, where the user is allowed to pinpoint, rather than calculate, where the living moment is in time, how distant in time an upcoming event is, how much free time there is left of the day and when.   

Gianmarco Caruso presents an example, where a digital clock would display 4 digits (ex. “11.40””, his app Diem would show a character carrying out a journey towards lunch, dinner, bedtime, and a path that connects all events. The character’s position would reflect the current time.  


Diem logo. Diem means "day" in Latin - hinting at what the app is de facto representing.

Current status 

During his Masters at UiB, Gianmarco was given the freedom to attempt and test several designs for Diem, where the most recent ones has led to impressive results. Testers with Down Syndrome who were never able to understand time on any device has managed to find themselves on the interface and use it to predict future events with precision. Most people who tested the early prototypes of Diem are actively waiting for an early release of the application, Caruso says.

He finished his thesis in the summer of 2021 and is now looking towards finding collaborations in both Norway and Italy, finishing the app’s design, do some more testing and working to further develop the app (for Android first). He highlights being particularly engaged in finding collaborators, which is a natural fit for how the project is expanding. 

- The MIX master program was quite explorative, and we've been given plenty of room to play around with our ideas and inspirations, since the beginning. For me, it was a breath of fresh air, and what I needed to make something like Diem, says Gianmarco.

Further work 

Caruso is planning to use the funding from UiB idé for among other things digital assets, equipment, traveling, and incentives for User Research. While he is actively thinking of ways to optimize the resources, it’s still likely that he must look for additional ways to fund the projects in the following months.  

“UiB Idé made the project possible, now it's time to make it work.” - Gianmarco Caruso  

This project has helped me learn also about myself, he says. Today, I can say that I am committed to become a full-fledged user-experience designer who specializes in the fields of inclusivity, visualization design and innovative healthcare research. 

One of the earliest 2D prototypes for Diem, used to test spatial (distance) awareness in early testers

Publisert: 25. oktober 2021
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