Jacob Jensen’s 1997 waterproof Beowatch (produced by bang & olufsen) was designed as a personal, unisex timepiece that makes telling time convenient and accessible. additionally, it also functioned as a remote control that controlled the volume of later bang & olufsen music centers. this design prompted me to question its present-day relevance in the design exhibition at the stedelijk museum, Amsterdam. over the last two decades the technology industry has undoubtedly grown and so has the way in which people engage with methods of measuring time. it is noticeable that less people wear wrist-watches everyday and the norm has adapted to using smartphones or other multifunctional devices to keep track of time.
this research will further discuss the design of the Beowatch in relation to the myriad of social questions it raises such as today’s security in wearable, intelligent technology and the aesthetics of unisex design.
few wearable objects are designed to be unisex, particularly jewellery (if we classify a wristwatch as jewellery). i am drawn to the statement this wristwatch is indirectly raising about society’s perceived aesthetics of gender. the design is created as ‘neutral’, an object that is seen through its own entity- regardless of preconceived ideas of masculine and feminine beauty. throughout history, wearable objects or fashion, has had a very divisive characteristic – creating standards and room for assumptions. this design forgoes these notions and is created as its own autonomous form.
balancing aesthetic and (multi)functionality reiterates how the Beowatch was very modern for its time;.Jensen’s approach to design drew my attention as he states “…we expand our concept of…what a watch should look like. the sight of an object does not necessarily have to show its function…” (1994, Jacob Jensen design [paperback], Paul Schäfer). this relationship between functionality and aesthetic is a core issue that designers are faced with.
however, it is a challenge nowadays between technology and its external design. technology is becoming increasingly intelligent with wristbands/watches that gather data to measure heart rates, count steps, give directions, forecast weather, play music, interact with other devices, predict the position of the moon etc and the visual appeal of wearing this technology. for example with the recent design release of Apple’s iwatch and Google’s glasses there is already considerable criticism on this ‘cyber-human’ image and artificial intelligence we are sometimes reluctantly and often unavoidably accepting.
Jensen redesigned the concept of a remote control in the Beowatch by making it multifunctional (acting as a remote control and timepiece). similarly, designers today are changing conventional objects into ergonomic designs that fabricate, sync or react together with the human body. there is an evident focus from the technology industry to attach these gadgets and lumped plastic to people especially by getting them onto wrists. of course there are many benefits of having such tools; they are accessible, readily available and can make tasks faster. however, the fact that these devices become so quickly absorbed into the culture of everyday society is blurring the boundaries of our true basic needs.
they are also perhaps just purely adding insult to injury- for example do people need to know how little sleep they are getting? or if they have eaten too much on one day compared to the next? or if they have skipped a day of exercise? this data collection that these devices provide may give us information but it is still not enough, what is more important is the reasoning- why we slept/ate bad and missed exercise, for example. simply knowing these facts without reasoning is the added ‘insult’ to the injury/damage that has already been created. for instance if your watch tells you that you haven’t exercised enough, things that you probably know already, would you change your routine just because your watch is telling you? in most cases, not. there are versatile calculations everywhere, but the problem is what to do with this information and how to interpret it.
it is irrefutable that the pace of technological advancement is remarkable; but this also affords the risk that people will develop a better reading of their technology/ wristbands and lose their sensitivity and awareness in reading their own bodies.
since the Beowatch, wrist technology has advanced further than the individual, as over the past decade debates have risen over personal security and privacy. it is unknown to the individual how much is known about them through their digital dossier. we are uncertain about where our information is stored or if it is being used for analysis; examples we have witnessed recently include the NSA files, cyber-hacks with phone applications and celebrities, Facebook scandals, Wiki-leaks and much more. these personal items have the potential act as a sensor or tracker, they constantly collect data which are ‘invisibly’ fed to different networks. though this subject may seem far fetched from the design of the Beowatch, the design is relevant as it marks part of the evolution of our technological reliance and dependence. it is uncertain where this line is between the personal object and a device that is actually just a form of data to a bigger establishment.
the Beowatch nowadays represents a certain phase in design (1993-1996) as well as the literal time. it represents the start of multifunctional, human-fitted technology. though now the object is more about its face than its function, being presented in a showcase at the Stedelijk Museum, it is still highly relevant and raises many direct and indirect issues. As the son of Jacob Jensen said in an interview: “a product which survives the test of time, even when it has been out distanced by technology, contains a concise idea carried out at the right time, and with an aim of thorough reworking” (Timothy Jensen in Jacob Jensen design, 1994, Paul Schäfer). though technology has definitely distanced since 1997, the design of the Beowatch has survived by providing a mark for its time as well as offering insight into how we should speculate the future of cyber-human technology.