Uniqlock took an age-old invention, the clock, and reinterpreted it for the digital age. Designed by Koichiro Tanaka at Projector Inc in Tokyo as a piece of branding and marketing for the Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo, Uniqlock is a downloadable digital clock that can be placed onto blogs or used as a screensaver. It mixes films of Uniqlo-clad dancers with a digital clock face that counts down each second. The clothes worn by the dancers change depending on the time of day and the season, with polo shirts worn in the summer, jumpers in the winter. At midnight, the dancers are shown asleep. By mixing charming and constantly changing visuals and music with the usefulness of a clock, Tanaka created a piece of advertising that customers in their droves sought to engage with.
From the beginning, Tanaka intended to attract the attention of bloggers. ‘I wanted to create a new circuit, or a new path, to connect Uniqlock and consumers across the world; that’s how I started,’ he says. ‘I focused on the blog, because I read blogs every day. One thing I realized while I was observing various blogs, is that when there is interesting information, and interesting content, it spreads across the world very, very quickly.’
‘However, it is not sufficient just to create blog content that is entertaining,’ Tanaka continues. ‘Because if there is something else interesting on the blog, the initial content will disappear very quickly. So I thought what was needed was not just interesting blog content, but something that would remain as a fixture on the sidebar, something that has utility. Unless it has utility, people don’t want to see it for a long time. We always wear a watch, so that’s why I came up with the idea of the clock. The clock is useful, it has utility, but it goes beyond mere utility – it has an entertaining element too. At the same time, I wondered how I could translate Uniqlo into an entertainment. Almost instinctively, it came to me that the physical movements of people who are wearing Uniqlo clothes, in a dance, could be the simplest, most universal expression of the brand.’
‘I overwhelmed the web development team with a vast number of development briefs, so the team leader was frightened of me. He said that he was so frightened that for about a week before the launch he was not able to sleep.’
Tanaka realized that the rhythm of the dancers would combine well with the time beats of a clock, and Uniqlock was born. To execute the concept, he teamed up with a commercial production company to create the films of the dancers, and worked with a freelance web development team to implement the technology. He also brought in a PR team very early in the process, to propose ideas for how Uniqlock could be seeded into various media. Unusually, he oversaw the entire production process personally, as this deep involvement by one person is a core element of Projector’s working practice. ‘If you are to carry out a project in a completely innovative way, I think it is very important that there is one person who is completely committed to the project,’ Tanaka says. ‘I think the important thing is not to have a large number of staff, but one person who is completely committed.’
‘My brief for the video production team was to produce a dance video that would go on and on forever, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,’ he continues. ‘We made about 100 clips for various seasons – we had to create them in two days, so we only had a very short amount of time to create each clip.’ Tanaka decided to alternate each five-second dance clip with a five-second clock interface, a decision that contributed to the smooth running of Uniqlock. ‘The insertion of a clock between dance clips has the hypnotic effect of making viewers want to see the next clip, and also technically speaking it was possible to use the five-second clock display for pre-loading the dance footage,’ he says. ‘So it was a kind of breakthrough that we were able to make the loading invisible to viewers. Also the clock cut up the visual timeline, making it possible to reshuffle the dance clips and play them endlessly and completely at random.’ The music for Uniqlock was designed to endlessly loop as well.
Such an intense working process was not without its difficulties. ‘I overwhelmed the web development team with a vast number of development briefs,’ says Tanaka, ‘so the team leader was frightened of me. He said that he was so frightened that for about a week before the launch he was not able to sleep’ – but this attention to detail is what makes Uniqlock so compelling. The team allowed users to set Uniqlock to the local time of any one of 282 cities across the world, and on the website there is a map showing all those people using Uniqlock at any one time.
Prior to its launch, teaser films of the dancers were placed on YouTube, leading to intrigue about the site. These, and the website itself, quickly spread around the world, proving that Tanaka had judged his target audience of bloggers well. In just six months, 175,000 screensavers and 27,000 blog widgets were downloaded, with the Uniqlock website receiving 68 million viewers from 209 countries around the world.