Q&A with Adrian van Hooydonk
An official interview with Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design, who speaks about design in general, the BMW design and the future of transportation.
Below we report an official document recently released by BMW, where Adrian van Hooydonk shares his vision on design in general and on the automotive field, explaining BMW’s perspective and design process.
Design in general
How do you assess the development of design as an economic factor? What is the significance of design in today’s society?
Of course it means we designers bear a considerable responsibility – vis à vis the company and also vis à vis our customers. But it’s a challenge we’re happy to take on.
Designers actively help to shape society. Together with architects, we automotive designers are responsible for shaping a considerable part of the environment we live in. Which makes design important.
We look closely at social developments, envisage various different scenarios and try to understand how we operate within them.
Our job as designers is to note current trends and identify our customers’ needs and wishes – always with an eye to the future. And with a lively interest in what is happening at the moment.
What contribution can automotive design make to shaping our society? What responsibility do you take on as designers?
Automotive design is always an expression of a particular era and a certain attitude towards life. As we all know, the automotive industry is currently going through a period of dramatic change. People who buy new vehicles are becoming increasingly interested in the question of sustainability.
People are more and more aware of their responsibilities, and are looking closely at brands to see if they are also behaving responsibly.
At BMW we take our environmental responsibilities very seriously and are working closely with our engineers to reduce the fuel consumption of our vehicles.
The consumption figures for the entire BMW fleet are already lower than for any other premium manufacturer – but we want to go even further than that in the future.
I think this demonstrates the importance we attach to looking to the future. We observe cultural and social trends all over the world and maintain close contact with our customers so that we can identify their individual needs and wishes.
After all, it is crucial to keep them in mind when we are designing a new car that is supposed to appeal to their emotions and exert a long-term fascination over them. For us, that means our products are much more than just the sum of their functions.
To achieve such an ambitious goal we have to develop an independent, authentic formal language that is suited to the brand and sets the tone for the future without losing touch with its strong roots.
How long does it take to design a car? What are the steps involved? What is the greatest challenge?
The design process never fails to fascinate me. I start with a briefing for the design teams, with input on the context and character of the car we want to design. We talk about heritage, design characteristics and customer expectations.
Then all the designers go back to their particular specialist area – for example exterior design, interior design or color and trim design – and develop ideas about the new car and how they would implement these in design terms.
We then organize an internal competition, in which we select some of the most promising sketches and convert them into three-dimensional 1:1 clay models using a special material developed for the purpose.
These design proposals then go to the BMW Group Board of Management for close inspection, after which the three or four best models move on to the next stage. Once the final model is chosen, work begins on the details with a view to it eventually going into series production. All in all, the process takes about three years from the initial sketch down to the final design.
What technical innovations will have a key influence on car design? To what extent is there cooperation between designers and developers? Who influences whom?
A lot of people think design inevitably clashes with technology. But if you see yourself as an industrial designer, then the functional element is crucial. Technology has to go hand-in-hand with design, and vice versa.
You have to offer the customer high-quality technology, but also an emotional element – and this primarily has to do with design.
The good thing about BMW is that the engineers are aware of this. And conversely, we are aware that design has to fulfil a function, that the most beautiful shape is pointless if it is not also functional.
Future of automotive design
Where is this automotive design journey taking us? What do you think the future holds in store over the next five, ten or twenty years?
We believe individual mobility will continue to be the determining factor in how we get around. I think vehicle design will reflect efficiency to a greater extent – and that includes visual representation of aerodynamics and visible use of lightweight construction techniques.
We also expect new drive technologies to reduce the size of the engine, freeing up more space for the interior.
The new BMW aesthetic will take all these changes into account – we want to develop an aesthetic that incorporates efficient dynamics as a natural element of our design language. I also think design will remain the foremost reason why people buy a particular car.
Our customers will also expect other things of us – probably new functions – but they will never relinquish the emotional element. Of course as premium manufacturers we are also expected to come up with answers to all the major issues of sustainability. And this is something we are working very hard on.
What role does sustainability play for the BMW Group?
Premium customers in particular expect our vehicles to consume less fuel than those of our competitors and to produce fewer emissions; they also expect us as manufacturers to carefully inspect all the materials we use and to minimise the environmental impact of our manufacturing processes.
The next challenge is to choose materials that can be reused in a similar function.
Can you reveal to us the central message of BMW’s design language?
By “authentic” I mean the vehicle’s appearance tells you what you can expect to experience when you drive it. Some of the features developed in recent decades have become unique BMW design icons and are now an integral part of BMW’s design DNA.
On the basis of this we can develop new design concepts that have their own unique character but are still recognizable as belonging to the BMW family.
In the design department at BMW we are very much concerned with proportions, surfaces and details.
There are a host of unmistakable design features that clearly articulate our design language and make each BMW unique.
Every BMW has an air of sporty elegance and dynamism thanks to the typical BMW proportions – a long wheelbase, short overhangs, a long bonnet and a passenger cell set well back. Our surfaces are always an emotional interpretation of the individual character of each model.
What role do concept cars play in the evolution of automotive design at the BMW Group?
I’m always attracted to concept cars that don’t just make an aesthetic statement but also in some way move the company forward.
The Vision EfficientDynamics concept, for example, has achieved a lot within the company by linking the idea of efficient dynamics with a strong emotional element.
Many people thought it couldn’t be done, but we have shown we can achieve this seemingly impossible combination.
What do you personally respond to emotionally in a car’s design?
As head of design for the BMW Group I only rarely get to design cars myself these days. One of my most important tasks is to motivate my team and draw the maximum possible creativity out of each individual designer.
I see myself as coach and mentor to my colleagues. As such I don’t merely present the team with the briefing for a new car but I see the entire process through – from the initial sketch to the launch of the new model.
I believe it’s very important to allow the team the greatest possible freedom in the design process. Ultimately it’s really quite moving to see a car on the road that you have known from its very first sketch.
Where do you seek inspiration for your work? How do you get ideas flowing?
That involves bringing wide-ranging interests to your job. Automotive designers are actively interested in so many things – they go to concerts or they take an interest in fashion or modern art.
I personally find Olafur Eliasson, Jeff Koons and Gerhard Richter very inspiring, but also architects like Rem Kohlhaas and Frank Gehry or the work of Jacques Herzog and Pierre deMeuron.
Automotive design requires a certain incubation time and the best thing to do is to nourish it with high-quality input.
What gets your pulse racing? In the design process or when you see a car you designed that has gone into series production? What really turns you on apart from cars?
One of my tasks is to initiate new product ideas within the company, and it’s always fascinating when that succeeds.
Then there’s the contact and collaboration with people with whom we then do new things at the furniture trade fair in Milan. I find this sort of thing enormously motivating and stimulating.
As a designer you’re interested in everything going on around you. Whatever the object, I always ask myself: how would I have designed it? So you are constantly thinking about the world around you – you develop a sophisticated antenna for the current zeitgeist.