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BMW integrates the originally analogue time-art object QLOCKTWO as a digital widget in the displays of its electric cars. Will it work? Take a closer look.

By Oliver Herwig

With the digital QLOCKTWO widget in BMW vehicles, interior design and the world of mobility merge © QLOCKTWO

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.

― William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

It’s four o’clock when Heiko Goeing starts the team call. The engineer is responsible for the research and design of digital products at BMW. He begins to explain something unusual: how the carmaker managed to digitise an analogue object that lives from its haptics and its presence in the room and put it into the display of modern vehicles in the form of a widgetvehicles as a widget, . “I was thrilled right from the start,” said Goeing. “To put it simply, QLOCKTWO is a great way to package time artistically.”

In fact, two artists, Marco Biegert and Andreas Funk, invented the unique timepiece in 2009: QLOCKTWO displays a complete sentence instead of the usual numbers in an elaborate wall object. “It is quarter past four”, for example, can be read on the milled and backlit surface. QLOCKTWO is now available as a digital widget for all vehicles with Operating System 8. The BMW iX was followed by the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, BMW i4, BMW X1 and the new BMW 7 Series. Naturally, the appearance had to come as close as possible to the three-dimensional original. “The car has been transformed into a rolling art exhibition,” said Goeing, who sees “no great contradiction” in the change of media, because BMW now uses the displays for other artistic themes and to create atmosphere, just as they did in using the sounds composed by Hans Zimmer for BMW electric vehicles.

It all began on 15 December 2021, “with an email”, recalled Jens Adamik, Managing Partner of QLOCKTWO. Then things moved quickly. “We signed mutual non-disclosure agreements with BMW in order to talk about the project idea. And then we developed the whole thing.” That “thing” was clearly a good fit right from the start, as the joint project of an art-loving car manufacturer and the no less art-loving time specialists from Schwäbisch-Gmünd. “BMW is a car brand that strongly defines itself through the theme of art, with artistic vehicles and collaborations with artists”, explained Adamik, which is why there was nothing standing in the way of an exclusive licence for BMW. Twelve months later, the digital QLOCKTWO lit up the display. And it seems to have quietly developed into a bestseller. Heiko Goeing: “About 25 percent of our customers have installed the widget already, and many of them put it right in the top spot, so right next to the steering wheel. The enthusiasm is very much there. It’s a beautiful story.”

From May 2022, a digital time display in the classic QLOCKTWO design will be available for the first time in the BMW iX © QLOCKTWO

From Driving to Lounging

It is also a story of deceleration in the age of digitalisation, which is radically changing driving: the increasingly autonomous vehicle is in the process of becoming a rolling office, a meeting room on wheels, or a capsule of relaxation between two stations. “’The joy of driving’ is defined not only by physical power or the precision of the driving experience, but also by the aesthetic design inside and out, or on the screen,” said Goeing. “This concept is continuing to evolve, currently demonstrated in the 7 series, where we also generate driving pleasure through deceleration with a vehicle that offers maximum comfort and can still produce fantastic acceleration, if you really want and need it.” That also shows the shift from horsepower to a digitalisation that enhances the vehicle’s performance through its connectivity and “intelligence”. Statistically, design is still one of the main reasons that vehicles are chosen, along with high quality and the latest state-of-the-art technology, Goeing explained. “What we are seeing is that the perception of interior design has risen sharply among our customers.”

There is hardly a better way to illustrate this change: the QLOCKTWO widget becomes part of the driver information system and appears on the Curved Display in the BMW iX. Depending on the driving mode, it changes its appearance within a changing colour spectrum; a real challenge with regard to changing light and shadows while driving, as well as reflections on the display. For Jens Adamik, it was “clear that the design had to be as close as possible to the physical version.” He was satisfied with the three-dimensionality and vividness of the digital version: “BMW achieved this by using a specific voltage and synthetic light reflections. Reading the time becomes a moment of conscious perception, an art experience.” Indeed, the digital version also shows time the way that it’s spoken. Heiko Goeing emphasised the excellent legibility: “We worked on the level of contrast for a long time, as well as on the proportions, the relationships of the text to the entire tile and to the frame.” For him, there were three key points: coherence of the overall design, legibility and recognisability – all without distracting the driver.

Learning From the Analogue

The QLOCKTWO widget creates the perfect contradiction: it fits well into an era that transforms everything analogue into zeros and ones, making it quantifiable: texts, images, sounds; and yet is strangely at odds with it. In the seventies, the seven-segment display was still considered the latest thing in LED watches. The calm flow of time had become a staccato of seconds and fractions of a second. In the meantime, we have almost become accustomed to the fact that time surrounds us everywhere – as a digitised four-digit sequence of numbers that often only indicates how far away we are from the next meeting, date or entry in the digital calendar. That’s when the artists Marco Biegert and Andreas Funk got involved and invented an alternative time display, or should we say: time announcement? QLOCKTWO transforms the ordinary sequence of numbers into a sequence of sentences that brings time back to a human scale.

Meanwhile, the Schwäbisch Gmünd art studio has grown into an international brand that offers its products in 20 languages. The goal: deceleration. The method: perceive time more consciously and not just let it pass. So for the Schwäbisch Gmünd-based company, the crucial question was how close the widget came to the analogue experience, or how far did it deliberately move away from it to take advantage of the possibilities of the digital? BMW has transformed this inherent tension into a fascinating product that fits into both information architecture and interior design. In any case, driving is undergoing a change from active steering to a new way of getting around, with assistance systems increasingly taking the wheel. QLOCKTWO is strengthening the movement toward a rolling lounge. The goal is an “exclusive place of contemplation that perfectly completes the fusion of the residential world with the mobile world”, Jens Adamik hopes. It focuses on the essentials in hectic moments. “Everyone knows that you get annoyed at some point. Sometimes it’s good to recapture the moment at the traffic light and say, ‘It’s not so bad after all.’”

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