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US designer Matt Johnston creates animated
GIFs of his favourite watches

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We love watches and we love people who love watches. California-based designer Matt Johnston loves them so much that he creates animated GIFs of contemporary timepieces for his website Wrist.IM.

He started his career designing brochure websites for businesses, but soon discovered a passion for interface and interaction design and eventually decided to take up the Wrist project to gain new skills after moving to Silicon Valley to join a startup.

“The goal was originally for me to get better at illustrating,” Johnston told Dezeen Watch Store.

“But since it started it’s also made me love watch design even more and want to collaborate with some great designers who share my love for watches.”

The challenge of reimagining everyday items in a new light was what initially drew him to animating illustrated wristwatches.

Casio F91W

Casio F91W

“They’re the perfect medium for design – they combine typography, colour, and movement to create a functional work of art you can wear on your wrist,” Johnston suggested.

“Sometimes it’s helpful to see an ordinary object in a new way in order to appreciate the art of it.”

Here’s an edited transcript of our interview with Matt Johnston:


Could you tell us more about Wrist?

Wrist is a project that features animated watch illustrations modelled after some of my favourite watches. The goal was originally for me to get better at illustrating, but since it started it has also made me love watch design even more and allowed me to collaborate with some great designers who share my love for watches.

Watches are the perfect medium for design – they combine typography, colour and movement to create a functional work of art you can wear on your wrist. Soon I’d like to start exploring my own watch designs and posting the results.

Braun BN0032 in black by Wrist.IM guest illustrator Dmitri Litvinov

Braun BN0032 in black by Wrist.IM guest illustrator Dmitri Litvinov

What is your design background?

I’ve been designing and developing websites for the last 12 years. I started with designing brochure websites for businesses, then found my passion in interface and interaction design and moved to Silicon Valley to join a startup.

I’ve always enjoyed doodling, but until recently had never tackled digital illustration. After a couple of lessons in Adobe Illustrator by a friend of mine, I started practising illustration much more. That’s when I decided to start Wrist and put my practice to work.

Extra Normal watch in black and white

Extra Normal watch in black and white

What attracts you to a watch, new or old?

It’s like any design – I’m attracted to balanced composition, thoughtful typography and simplicity. I generally tend to lean towards white, simple faces as opposed to busy chronographs that cover all the available space with numbers and dials.

I like leather straps much better than metal, the leather gives watches a great classic look that suits watches much better. It’s also nice when watches manage to create novel mechanics for telling the time yet still remain aesthetically pleasing, like the Qlocktwo W.

Why did you choose the Timex Weekender for your first post?

I made a conscious choice not to start the project with an expensive watch, because I wanted to show the art and beauty in all watches. The Timex Weekender is an accessible watch for almost anybody, and yet still has a very thoughtful design and well constructed body.

Sometimes it’s helpful to see ordinary objects in a new way in order to appreciate the art of it.

Time weekender

Time weekender

How do you find your guest illustrators?

From the very start I received amazing feedback and support from the design community for Wrist. Shortly after posting the first watch, I was receiving emails from other designers asking if I’d be taking any submissions from other designers.

For the last few years my favourite illustrators have been David Lanham and Ryan Putnam, and yes, I’d love to work with them in the future.

What is the most challenging aspect of this project?

Each new watch presents its own challenges and so did building the Wrist website.

The biggest ones starting out were animating vector graphics on the web, dealing with timezone offset for different regions and figuring out how to illustrate rounded metal using the flat design aesthetic.

Polygon by Wrist.IM guest illustrator Ronald Hagenstein

Polygon by Wrist.IM guest illustrator Ronald Hagenstein

Can you tell us about your day job at Boatbound and how you balance it with personal projects like Wrist?

Boatbound is a peer-to-peer boat rental platform my co-founder and I launched in May of 2013. The easiest comparison is that it’s like Airbnb for renting boats.

I think it’s important to make time in my schedule for projects like Wrist where I can work on things simply for the fun of it, because that keeps me learning and interacting with other designers.

What’s next for Wrist?

My plan is to post a few more real watches before I start exploring watch designs of my own. This was one of the ultimate goals of Wrist – to learn and appreciate watch design enough to design my own. Whether they’ll be any good is another story.

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