Leap seconds- the debate communicated by a designer.

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In summary, a Graphic Design student from the UK is seeking the help of forum members in designing a piece that communicates the debate over the use of leap seconds to the general public. The main basis of the design will be typography. The student acknowledges their limited understanding of the debate and is open to hearing views from both sides. They will credit and seek approval from those who assist with the project. The conversation also includes a discussion on the importance of leap seconds and the potential consequences of eliminating them. The student also mentions that the theme of time and measuring it is part of their design brief.
  • #1

Firstly, it's necessary to point out that I'm a Graphic Design student from the UK, and although I take a general interest in science and technology, my grasp of anything as academically demanding is nothing compared to what I expect of the forum members here, so I apologise if I seem simple.

I am asking for the help of anyone interested, and I hope that in return, I can assist the leap second debate. I am designing something as a means of communicating the debate of the use of leap seconds to the general public in an informative yet easily accessible format. The main basis of this will be typography (using fonts creatively).

I understand the general arguments both for and against retaining the leap second system, but I feel that I am not informed enough to be able to create a piece of design that will do the debate justice yet. I would really like to hear your views- both sides of the debate, and know what information is vital to include from a physicist's viewpoint.

Of course, I shall credit you in my research, and let you see the final piece, hopefully with approval from people who know what they're talking about!

Feel free to get in touch, either on this forum or by PM.

Many thanks for reading,

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  • #2
OK, I'll bite: How does the debate over leap seconds have anything to do with typography?

A couple of articles for readers who don't even know what the debate is about:

The Debate over UTC and Leap Seconds, http://www.agi.com/downloads/resources/white-papers/Debate-Over-UTC-and-Leap-Seconds.pdf [Broken]
The Future of Time: UTC and the Leap Second, http://arxiv.org/pdf/1106.3141

My thoughts: "Past surveys have suggested that precision users of UTC are “overwhelmingly satisfied with the current method of determining UTC (leap seconds).”" Spot on.

If you truly do need a continuous time scale that ticks at the same rate as TAI, use TAI. UTC should be viewed as civilian time. There's a reason for having leap seconds. It keeps our civil time in sync with time of day. The necessary corrections, leap seconds, are so small that most people are completely unaware they exist. To those who don't think that keeping time in sync with time of day is important, they should look back to the conversion from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian. What a mess that caused!

That some organizations use GPS time while others use TAI and don't tell each other the details when exchanging time has caused problems. This proposal will have unintended consequences of even more problems in this vein. We don't need a yet another time scale that ticks at the same rate as TAI and has a fixed offset from TAI. We need one fewer than the number we already have.
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  • #3
Thank you for your response, it's really useful and will be relying on it over the coming weeks.

What does the leap seconds debate have to do with typography? Absolutely nothing. But in that train of thought, nothing has anything to do with typography. I have been given a brief which requires a theme of time/ recording/ measuring time and because this came in the news on the day I was given this brief I have decided to run with it. This is a very high- end competition brief and wanted to do something different so it may stand out amongst the other entries.

Many thanks again for the help, it's greatly appreciated.


1. What is a leap second?

A leap second is an adjustment made to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) in order to account for the Earth's slowing rotational speed. It is added on either June 30th or December 31st of a given year, in order to keep UTC in line with the Earth's actual position in orbit around the sun.

2. Why do we need leap seconds?

Leap seconds are necessary because the Earth's rotation is gradually slowing down due to tidal forces. This means that the length of a day is getting longer, and without leap seconds, our timekeeping system would eventually fall out of sync with the Earth's position in its orbit.

3. Who decides when to add a leap second?

The decision to add a leap second is made by the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS), which is a group of scientists and experts from around the world. They closely monitor the Earth's rotation and determine when a leap second is needed.

4. Is there a debate about leap seconds?

Yes, there is a ongoing debate about whether or not we should continue to add leap seconds. Some argue that the occasional adjustment is necessary for accurate timekeeping, while others argue that it causes disruptions and unnecessary complexity in our timekeeping systems.

5. What is the role of a designer in the leap second debate?

A designer's role in the leap second debate is to communicate the complexities and potential consequences of adding or removing leap seconds to the general public. They may also be involved in creating and implementing solutions for accurately keeping time, regardless of the outcome of the debate.