I started wearing Durr at the beginning of perhaps the busiest Verge week of the year, CES. Due to the passing of a relative I skipped the journey to Vegas and stayed back in London, tasked with keeping the site ticking overnight while my colleagues got some well-deserved sleep. At 6AM on the first morning of the week, I attached Durr to my wrist, activated vibrations, and got to work.
Within seconds of starting my shift, big news broke from Google. After reading through various press releases and researching the history, I set to work writing the article. Just two sentences in, I felt my watch vibrate and instinctively looked down to my wrist, expecting to see a pixelated notification on a monochrome Pebble display. Then I remembered Durr isn't like other watches. It doesn't tell the time, it doesn't give me notifications, it just vibrates every five minutes. As I put the finishing touches on the article and prepared to post it to the site, Durr vibrated again, reminding me just how long this was taking. What seemed like a two- or three-minute writeup had actually taken twelve.
This was my introduction to Durr. If I proposed building a watch that doesn't tell the time, you'd probably call me crazy. But that's exactly what two designers known collectively as Skrekkøgle have done. Durr doesn't want to tell you what time it is — it doesn’t even have a display to do so. It simply measures the time between moments by vibrating. I've been wearing one on a daily basis for almost a month now, and my time with it has been enlightening.
I ordered Durr on a whim; at €90 (about $120), it’s just about within my range for an impulse buy. I was intrigued by the concept, and have something of a passion for odd watches. Wearing it for the first time, I noted it resembled something like a giant Necco wafer strapped to my wrist, a handmade polyamide circle with a simple brown leather strap. It comes in five fairly agreeable colors — the hue of my particular Durr is called "cooked salmon," which is one of the better euphemisms for pink I've come across — and has no controls apart from a tiny recessed button on the side that turns vibrations on and off. I wouldn't say it's attractive or unattractive, but its looks are definitely an acquired taste.
Durr quietly vibrated away, letting me know that each six hours that passed had in fact been just five minutes
Towards the end of CES week I attended a funeral that was conducted almost entirely in Greek — a language I don’t speak — and permeated with incense and all manner of Orthodox chanting. I was there to pay my respects and say goodbye, but a combination of faint-inducing incense and general sleep deprivation had turned this gesture into a battle to maintain consciousness. Once again, Durr quietly vibrated away, letting me know that each six hours that passed had in fact been just five minutes.
As the days passed, Durr's vibration began to fade into the background, and I started to use it to my advantage. I’ve since found it makes me more productive than any smartwatch ever has. While Pebble distracts me with its incessant buzzing, Durr calls me out when I'm taking too long making a GIF, it lets me know when that article probably should've been up two minutes ago, and, as I write this review, it's telling me that browsing lists on BuzzFeed is definitely not going to help me finish this paragraph.
That's been the theme of my month with Durr: how I perceive and make use of my time is invariably wrong. I spoke with Durr’s creators, Theo Tveterås and Lars Vedeler, about my experience, and while it wasn’t quite what they had in mind when designing Durr, they admit that its purpose is ambiguous at best.
To Tvertås and Vedeler, Durr was simply an experiment. After a conversation about how quickly a busy day at the office had flown by, they wondered if there was a simple way they could keep track of time. In half an hour, they'd created a clunky prototype, and were enthralled enough by their wrist-worn metronome to pursue the idea further. Speaking with them, I get the impression that they're very happy for people to interpret its vibrations in whatever way they want. This initial run, which sold out in a little over six weeks, has garnered conflicting opinions from buyers and observers alike. Apparently, some have given the designers feedback similar to mine, reporting increased productivity. An alternate interpretation is that Durr serves as a memento mori, a friendly vibrating reminder that your death is now five minutes closer.
A friendly vibrating reminder that your death is now five minutes closer
That Durr presents very little reason for its existence has drawn criticism from some — its makers refer to scrolling through online comments as "psychological self-mutilation." But if its obtuse simplicity has provoked some unwanted negativity, reaction to its price has at times been vitriolic. The initial run was priced at €90 (around $120), which in the world of limited-run watches is fairly low, but some commenters compared it to "an egg timer on a strap" and called out the designers for overpricing what is admittedly a simple piece of electronics.
Tvetarås and Vedeler defend the price, noting that most consumers are used to mass-produced electronics. "At our level of low volume and scale everything is more expensive," says Tvetarås. "We're not making much money out of this." Although they don't mention it, there’s also the small matter of location: the watch was designed and made in Oslo, Norway. It’s perhaps the most expensive city in the world, a place where a Big Mac costs $7.80 and a pair of Levi’s 501s will set you back $150. To me, I bought an alpha product made by a pair of designers with no outside funding. Yes it’s expensive, but at this stage in development it shouldn’t be judged against other products.
Image credit: Skrekkøgle
Despite initially refusing to commit to making more, the pair are now planning on expanding production to a beta run. The initial alpha units were constructed on a small scale, pieced together and dyed by hand. The new Durrs are being redesigned to enable a larger production scale, hopefully resulting in a reduced price. Tveterās also says they're working on a new vibration scheme to get past the way people are "hardwired" to associate vibrations with smartphones. I’m looking forward to recommending it to procrastinating friends.
As much as I reap the benefits of my new watchless watch, I do miss being able to glance at my wrist and tell the time. I’m not convinced that adding a small and relatively inexpensive LCD unit to tell the time would take away from the watch’s appeal. That said, no watch, smart or otherwise, has given me this much insight into how uselessly unproductive I can be sometimes, and I have Durr to thank for that.