Design in general.
Q: What importance does our society attach to design today? How do you see the development of design as an economic factor?
A: As an aesthetic interpretation of technology, design is of huge importance. We humans rely on engineering and technologies. And design is the platform we need if we are to combine these with aesthetics. Technology alone is not the answer, nor is the pure art of aesthetics. In automotive design we dovetail the two to create an alluring and desirable end product.
Design has vital importance as an economic factor, because when a customer purchases an object they are in some way making a statement about themselves. It is the customer who decides whether or not something looks good. So the challenge for us designers is to be able to identify with the designed product. This is how we develop authentic design that is tangible to the customer. Given the size of the competitive environment in which we operate, the authentic MINI message is of paramount importance to the customer.
Q: How can automotive design contribute towards shaping our society? What responsibilities do you have as an automotive designer?
A: We use design to shape and package sustainable technologies for the future. But the design process itself can also give rise to new technologies. By that I mean that a creative idea may also generate a solution for a technology. A new technology doesn’t always provide you with the blueprint for the outer shell you are about to design. What’s interesting is the logic behind it. How will we deal in future with the concept of user interface, for example? Will it always be a self-contained system to which we add graphics? Or should the interior as a whole be included? In other words, where else does the vehicle communicate with the driver beyond the system, e.g. through illumination concepts? Technology, content and design clearly go hand in hand.
As automotive designers we shoulder a great responsibility. Sustainability is a major topic for us. But the biggest challenge we face is making sustainability desirable. Sustainability has intrinsic beauty and we should not just associate it with objects that appear practical. Our aim is to design sustainable objects that are also aesthetically pleasing and desirable. A vital element of a model’s success is also how it appears both to the customer and within the competitive field. This is one of the areas we designers have to consider in advance in collaboration with the engineers and marketing people.
Q: How long does it take to design a car from scratch? What are the different design phases? Which of these do you see as the greatest challenge?
A: In general terms, it takes five years to design a vehicle. To begin with we develop a basic concept, which we then translate into mood images. The first concrete ideas begin to crystallise at this point. Once this stage is complete, we define the proportions and begin working on the design for series development. This involves making preliminary drawings on paper, which are then transferred in digital format to the computer for processing into CAD or clay models. One feature of this phase at the BMW Group is that we operate the competition principle. All the designers present their ideas in open competition with each other. The process culminates in the selection of a final design, which is then refined to series maturity.
MINI Design is a very small and focused team. We regard each other as family and share our experience of different departments. By the same token, we also ensure that team members gain experience across as wide a range as possible. Sometimes we will send a good interior designer to work with the exterior design team – and vice versa. This approach helps ensure that our design team is able to think holistically and has a good grounding in the entire process.
Our biggest challenge is finding a balance between the brief, the concept and our own desires. We can’t just design what we would want for ourselves or come up with some entirely fanciful creation. We must regularly subject ourselves to the same test: if I design something, will the customer like it, will he want to drive it, will he want to have it parked outside his front door?
Q: What technical innovations will have a major influence on car design? To what extent is there cooperation between designers and developers? Who influences whom?
A: The aspects of hardware and technology will continue to play a major role in the future. We’re talking here about the construction of the vehicle: suspension, chassis, interior appointments, tied up with further improvements to passive safety – a key issue for the years ahead. Since the aspect of passive safety directly affects vehicle proportions, it will inevitably have an impact on the cars we will be designing over the next ten or twenty years. The user interface is another area influencing automotive design. Here the key functions will be clustered on a display. We see our design as supporting customers in their own environment, so that they can both create their own content and programme the input exactly as they would like it.
Given the partnership between designers and developers it is always difficult to say where an idea originates. But the important thing is that all sides meet regularly and make joint decisions. I’m the sort of person who likes to question things at the right time during the creative process. But I also aim to ensure there is consensus when the time is right. The more efficient the process, the sooner we can achieve creative output.
Future of automotive design.
Q: Where is this automotive design journey taking us? What do you think the future has in store for us in five, ten, twenty years?
A: Drive systems will play a key role in determining the geometry of the automobile. And we will find more natural ways to integrate vehicle software. But there will also always be a focus on a vehicle’s aesthetic aspect: a beautiful car, something I am proud to have parked outside my front door. The whole message, content, technology, sustainability, user friendliness, the manufacturer’s responsibility for environmentally sound disposal of the vehicle at the end of its life cycle – these are all important aspects. But we should not lose sight of the fact that the aesthetic aspect is also of primary importance. For aesthetics is a key factor in creating a sense of wellbeing, in generating a positive customer response to a vehicle’s appearance and handling. In my opinion, the success of automotive design in future will depend on whether vehicles remain beautiful objects over the long term.
Q: Premium means many things to different people. Definitions range from over-the-top to minimalist – today the spectrum is broader than ever. How do you define “premium” in automotive design?
A: Premium appeal at MINI is evident in various ways. A MINI is cool, a car that not only features ingenious solutions but also embodies the zeitgeist. There are explicit references to the car’s origins in a number of key areas. This becomes much more evident in the treatment we give to all design elements, materials and functions – and which are implemented with the utmost care and attention in the finished design. Ultimately this approach contributes enormously to the perceived quality of a MINI. And let’s not forget that the MINI offers a myriad of different possible equipment combinations. So the chances of finding two identical MINI cars are very slim indeed. This high degree of customisation is unique in the small car segment. No other vehicle in this class can highlight a driver’s individuality in such a personal way. You can’t get more premium than that.
Q: Can you give us an insight into the central message behind the MINI design philosophy? How true can MINI be to its design principles given the wide range of models?
A: We at MINI define design as being the dead centre between engineering and aesthetics. These two are represented in roughly equal measure. Our core belief is that design drives enthusiasm. If I’m enthusiastic about something then there is a personal, emotional attachment. It is often said that the attachment a MINI owner has for his vehicle is second to none. There are even MINI customers who see their vehicle as being part of the family. If the customer regards the vehicle as a family member, then our task is not only a privilege but also one we should approach with great caution. The lines, proportions, surfaces and graphics currently work well for the MINI brand, so I would only call them into question if they are no longer contemporary or no longer make a valid aesthetic statement. If I am working on designing the tail light, for example, as was the case with the Rocketman concept, then it is the customer that endorses such developments because we have created a new story. But ultimately we can neither alter nor question the hallmark features of MINI.
The ongoing development of the model family at MINI can only be successful if each new story added is fundamentally a MINI story. The MINI principle is: “Bigger on the inside, smaller on the outside”. But as far as the concept is concerned, a MINI should always be the smallest vehicle in its segment.
Q: Given the restrictions imposed from within the company and without, how much personal feeling and emotion is there in your designs? What do you see as “emotional” in a car’s design?
A: I always find it essential to ask myself at the right moment if I personally like the design. And then at the appropriate moment I will mask out my personal opinions and listen to what others have to say. At the end of the day, it’s all about being able to open up when required. For me a car’s design becomes emotional when the mental image I have of what I feel at the wheel tallies exactly with what I see.
Q: Where do you seek inspiration for your work? How do you get ideas flowing?
A: I draw my inspiration from a lot of things outside the automotive industry: art, architecture, music, literature and philosophy. I like trying to understand the processes that ultimately bear fruit. I find music very important in this respect. Often the insights I gain here can be applied to the automotive sector. Both processes are about shaping time and space. The environment I grew up in did not live by established formulae; it was one that freely redefined music through jazz and jazz fusion. Although music follows a set of rules, you can organise these rules how you like. When you have a solo, the stage is yours; if you don’t want it, you make way for someone else. I’m an avid Beatles fan. Those four lads from Liverpool earned their success through sheer hard work. They practised and practised and practised. There is another parallel here with automotive design. Success doesn’t come easily, it comes with hard graft. Even the creative processes that bring success are 99 per cent the result of intense, focused work.
Q: What gives you more of a thrill, the design process or looking at a vehicle you have successfully brought to series maturity?
A: As a professional designer I am constantly asking myself whether I like a certain design or object. Would I drive it myself? Am I able to put myself in the customer’s shoes? That’s also a kind of inspiration for me, as it gives me some assurance that the customer will experience the same high degree of emotional attachment as I experienced with the original design.