Helga Schmid

PhD Work

Uchronia: A practice-led research at the intersection of design, chronobiology and chronosociology

Within the last 200 years, the Western world has gone through a process of transformation from an agricultural to an urbanised 24/7 society. The shift in dominance from natural time to the mechanical clock has significantly influenced biological and social rhythms. Modern technology has led to an increasing temporal fragmentation, heralding an era of flexible time with ever more complex processes of synchronisation. The prevailing clock-based time persisted with greater precision (atomic clock), but societal synchronisation dynamics have changed over time due to digital technologies. For instance, punctuality gave way to flexibility, which is now the decisive factor in the pace of postmodern or ‘hypermodern’ life. Our society is described as an ‘instant network society’ or ‘digital society’, suffering from increasing time pressure and the acceleration of time. The natural rhythmicity of the human biological clock, however, conflicts with such contemporary algorithmic structures and inhumane rhythms.

My practice-based research investigates an alternative time system based on the human circadian rhythm. It explores the possibility to think outside the boundaries of clocks, and calendars. In an interdisciplinary approach, the research combines two theoretical strands. The first, chronobiology, deals with the temporality of the human body, and the second, chronosociology, investigates the principles and structures of temporal systems in societies. The practice element conceives an alternative temporal system developed and realised in the form of a biotemporal and sociotemporal architectural space. It is an original artistic visualisation and exploration of how scientific research can be translated into a lived, aesthetic experience. In distinct experiments, participants live in a homeorhythmic space, pursuing their own independent rhythm, irrespective of today’s temporal organisation. By developing a temporal utopia, termed uchronia, the project challenges thought patterns regarding the temporal structure of contemporary, technology driven life.


  • PhD


    School of Communication


    Visual Communication, 2011–

  • Helga is a graphic designer and researcher. She is currently a PhD candidate in the Visual Communication programme at the Royal College of Art. Her recent research critically challenges todays societal temporal system of clocks and calendars and proposes alternatives based on the human body. 

    Previously, Helga was a researcher at the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She has worked internationally as a designer for magazines (Print magazine), museum projects (MoMA, Archäopark) and as an in-house designer (School of Visual Arts). Her work has been exhibited and featured in publications, blogs and magazines worldwide, and she has received a number of international awards including the Type Directors Award, Art Directors Award, Best German Books Award as well as a Fulbright scholarship and two DAAD scholarships. Helga has a background as a communication designer, holding a postgraduate degree from the University of Applied Sciences in Augsburg, Germany and a Masters degree in the MFA design programme Designer as Author from the School of Visual Arts in New York. 

  • Degrees

  • MFA Design, School of Visual Arts, New York, 2010; Diploma in Communication Design, University of Applied Sciences, Augsburg, 2007
  • Experience

  • Researcher, Museum of Modern Art, Department of Architecture and Design, 2010; Freelance Designer, 2007–present
  • Awards

  • Type Directors Award, 2010 ; Type Directors Award, 2009; Art Directors Award, 2009; Output Award, 2009; Best German Books Award, 2008