Designworks has an exceptional sense for design phenomena and develops groundbreaking innovations for the BMW Group and selected external clients. The successful subsidiary is turning 50.
This debut will catch the eye of all motorsport fans and be a welcome highlight: the first prototype developed by BMW M Motorsport in 25 years will boast an expressive livery in next year’s legendary IMSA American racing series. The newly interpreted, iconic BMW M colours and the M logo give the BMW M Hybrid V8 a modern, bold and dynamic exterior. The racing car’s sensational design also comes from the BMW Group subsidiary Designworks.
The creative consultancy with studios in Los Angeles, Munich and Shanghai is not only responsible for the graphic design of this prototype. It has also been instrumental in the design of many vision vehicles – and has been involved in the design of vehicles that are now an integral part of the street scene: the BMW X model range has its roots in Designworks, as does the concept behind the BMW i electric brand. Designworks also provides insightful impetus on global design phenomena to the BMW Group headquarters and develops new ideas from these. The successful innovation studio is now celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Designworks was founded in 1972 as an independent design studio in a garage in Malibu by American industrial designer Chuck Pelly. The first collaboration with BMW was in 1986 for the seat of the legendary BMW 850i. In 1993, Designworks began its first exterior design project for the BMW 3 Series. In 1995, the BMW Group acquired 100 per cent of the shares in the design company; at the same time, Designworks acquired renowned new clients from the IT, electronics and sporting goods industries.
Unique collaboration model with external partners.
This two-pronged approach is Designworks’ recipe for success, which also benefits the BMW Group and its brands. The innovation studio dedicates about half of its projects to the company headquarters and its brands; the other half consists of projects for selected external clients. This model gives the BMW Group an outside-in perspective unique in the industry. Designworks’ experience from other industries broadens the horizon for the BMW Group to include cross-mobility perspectives. For example, Designworks has been involved in the design concepts of seating furniture, aeroplanes, subways, bicycles, boats, sporting goods, air taxis (eVTOLs), agricultural and forestry machinery and a hyperloop, a high-speed passenger and freight transport system. The knowledge transfer also works in the opposite direction: for its part, Designworks draws on the expertise the BMW Group has in the field of premium mobility, bringing a holistic perspective to external projects. Holger Hampf, Head of Designworks, says: “We work on solutions for complex ecosystems at the intersection of design, mobility, and technology. Our job is to present a joker, the unexpected approach to a solution. We have to challenge the BMW Group in a positive way, develop ideas and, in the best case, answer questions that haven’t even been asked yet.”
Constructive friction as a driver of innovation.
Designworks always comes into play when a perspective is needed that is calling for unconventional thinking. To make sure, the teams never run out of innovative ideas, Designworks nourishes a culture of creative friction. By accepting friction as part of the creative process, the teams consciously invite creative tension that must be explored, examined and ultimately resolved. This process yields more refined creative output than one with a more harmonious beginning. The designers are convinced: In a complex world, better and more meaningful solutions for the future emerge from opposing views and positive tensions in the creative process.
It is not only in the automotive sector; the entire mobility sector and many other industries are currently undergoing a profound transformation, whereby topics such as electromobility, digitalisation and the circular economy are increasingly coming into focus. The challenging mandate of the BMW Group to its subsidiary is to take up design phenomena from as many areas as possible, observe and interpret them and make them usable for the BMW Group, from shape design to strategy development to identifying new business potential. For example, in 2021, Designworks developed two seat studies for BMW that combine sustainability with visionary design. In cooperation with start-up companies, they experimented with completely new materials. The “Infinite Loop” design uses textile waste that is processed into a synthetic yarn. The “Grown Innovation” study combines synthetic textiles made from recycled material with natural fibres and an innovative laboratory-created biomaterial. This bio-based material forms the basis for a textile that is both plastic-free and animal-free. It's durable and has a high-quality look as well as the potential to be an excellent alternative to traditional leather in the future.
The BMW M Hybrid V8 racing car also fits into the Designworks portfolio. It points the way to an electrified future for BMW M and is intended to demonstrate how dynamic and emotional electrified M Power can be. “Today’s global challenges call for a different kind of creative spirit,” says Holger Hampf. “What is needed today is a new kind of designer who thinks and acts contextually and yet has an eye on the big picture. Their creative instincts delve through an enormously wide range of possible directions to find the best solution.”
Advanced Design - answering questions before they have been asked.
In BMW Group´s Advanced Design the Designworks teams develop innovative approaches to topics and problems that the BMW Group is not yet actively working on. The 130 employees at the three locations of Los Angeles, Munich and Shanghai are able to do this because they have their “eyes and ears” on the pulse of the times, as Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design and former President of Designworks, puts it: “Advanced Design gives us the creative energy we need to be really competitive.”
Designworks is upbeat about the challenges ahead.
The design studio sees itself both as a challenger, questioning the familiar, and as a driver of transformation and impetus for social and ecological change. What drives the designers is the constant urge not only to treat symptoms but to find solutions and address problems structurally.
The focus in the future will be even more on developing solutions that combine the knowledge of various disciplines and sectors, aiming to make the individual mobility of intelligent cities smarter and people’s lives more liveable. Intelligent creativity and progressive thinking are needed to continue producing innovations in the future. Adrian van Hooydonk is convinced that Designworks makes the BMW Group excellently equipped for this task: “Change is affecting the entire industry. We will need all our creativity and a lot of innovative thinking to find the best solutions. The set-up we have with Designworks gives us an excellent chance to be successful.”
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