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Mark Zuckerberg is moonlighting as an industrial designer

He recently designed a product for his wife that helps her avoid looking at her phone.

Mark Zuckerberg is moonlighting as an industrial designer
[Photo: Flickr user Alessio Jacona]

Mark Zuckerberg is many things: computer scientist, Facebook CEO, billionaire so focused on making more money that he’ll undermine American democracy to do it. Now, he can add another title to the list: industrial designer.

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Over the weekend, Zuckerberg announced on Instagram that he’d created what he calls a “sleep box” as a way of helping his wife not use her phone to check the time in the mornings. When she looks at the time on her phone, he explains in an Instagram post, she has a hard time going back to sleep if she’s woken up too early. To solve this conundrum, Zuckerberg built a slightly raised wooden box that emits a dim light at its base during the hours of 6 and 7 a.m. If Chan wakes up before that time frame, the lack of light will subtly indicate to her that she should go back to sleep, without her having to check her phone. But the light is dim enough to help her keep sleeping if she doesn’t wake up. In essence, it’s a light-based alarm clock that doesn’t actually aim to wake you up, just to indicate the general time if you do.

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Being a mom is hard, and since we've had kids Priscilla has had a hard time sleeping through the night. She'll wake up and check the time on her phone to see if the kids might wake up soon, but then knowing the time stresses her out and she can't fall back asleep. So I worked on building her what I call the "sleep box". It sits on her nightstand, and between the hours of 6-7am it emits a very faint light — visible enough that if she sees it she'll know it's an okay time for one of us to get the kids, but faint enough that the light won't wake her up if she's still sleeping. And since it doesn't show the time, if she wakes up in the middle of the night, she knows to just go back to sleep without having to worry about what time it is. So far this has worked better than I expected and she can now sleep through the night. As an engineer, building a device to help my partner sleep better is one of the best ways I can think of to express my love and gratitude. A bunch of my friends have told me they'd want something like this, so I'm putting this out there in case another entrepreneur wants to run with this and build sleep boxes for more people!

A post shared by Mark Zuckerberg (@zuck) on

“So far this has worked better than I expected and she can now sleep through the night,” Zuckerberg writes. “As an engineer, building a device to help my partner sleep better is one of the best ways I can think of to express my love and gratitude.”

The simple wooden box also shows off Zuckerberg’s somewhat basic industrial design skills, putting him in the company of other designers who’ve built devices that aim to help people reduce their need to look at a phone to get something done. While the so-called “sleep box” has a very narrow use-case and was clearly built for a very specific situation, it’s similar to Mui, a wooden control panel for the smart home that’s made of wood, not screens, with the goal of making technology feel more natural. And it’s part of a larger shift toward calm interfaces, which have the goal of creating serenity, not anxiety.

Ironically, Zuckerberg’s company is part of the reason for screen dependency and that debilitating feeling that comes along with it: both Facebook and Instagram have addictive interfaces that encourage you to keep scrolling and do their best to keep you hooked onto the platform for as much time as possible, regardless of the impact on your attention and overall well-being.

Now if only Zuckerberg would inject his calm interface design ethos into his actual products.

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is the deputy editor of Fast Company's technology section. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and follow her on Twitter @kschwabable

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