BMW: design DNA

Automotive Design 16 May 2012
BMW: design DNA

An official overview of the BMW design philosophy, with a summary of the distinctive styling cues of the brand and a gallery of images including new sketches and photos.

BMW 5 Series Touring - Design Sketch After the article “MINI: design DNA”, we publish another design overview, with details and information selected from BMW Group’s recently released documents, this time focused on the BMW brand.

The information reported below – selected from three recent official articles – report a admittedly promotional yet interesting overview of the brand’s design language and philosophy, summarizing the trademark styling elements.

Exterior Design

Over many decades, a variety of design elements have formed the unique DNA of BMW as defined by its distinctive proportions, surfaces and details.

BMW 5 Series - Design Sketch Their interplay moulds the character of a BMW and spawns the unmistakable BMW look.

The characteristic proportions – long wheelbase, short overhangs, stretched bonnet and set-back passenger cell – evoke sporty elegance and dynamics.

The individual character of each vehicle is conveyed through meticulously sculpted surfaces, tautly drawn and contoured by precise lines to shape the body of the car.

Each model evinces its own interpretation of the surface design, creating richly faceted accents through precision detailing.

The BMW face

BMW Design DNA - Front end The front end of a BMW alone sports signature features that unmistakably identify the car as a BMW. The two-part kidney-shaped radiator grille, the brand emblem set centrally above it, and the twin round headlights jointly form a striking design composition in which the front headlamps, “sawn off” at the top, define the customary intent look that is firmly focused on the road ahead.

The radiator grille – familiarly known as the “kidney grille” – was first introduced in 1933 and has over time evolved into BMW’s most conspicuous feature.

This iconic BMW design element appears in many different renditions and continues to define the face of a BMW to this day: flanked by the hallmark twin round headlamps with light rings, it forms the centrepiece of an ensemble that imprints a unique look on each BMW.

Characteristic flow of body lines.

BMW Design DNA - Proportions The side view similarly displays numerous hallmark BMW design elements that are variously interpreted according to model.

The long hood smoothly segues into the set-back passenger cell to create a stretched outline that is both elegant and functional, generating a dynamic silhouette that imbues the car with a forward-surging stance even when stationary.

The long wheelbase provides a dynamic and elegant base for the car, while short overhangs at the front and rear bracket the familiar BMW proportions that are divided by just a few eloquent lines.

Also characteristic is the side window surface which, with its chrome-colored frame, takes its lead from the formal language of a coupé.

BMW Design DNA - Hofmeister kinkIt tapers into the Hofmeister kink, a dynamic counter-sweep at the base of the rear pillar that supports the roof and separates the rear side windows from the rear windscreen.

This styling element, named after former BMW Design Director Wilhelm Hofmeister, gives the window outline a forward thrust while accentuating a further BMW hallmark: rear-wheel drive.

Beneath the window frame, a precise swage line with integrated door handles runs along the side to divide the car body. Emanating from the front, this line extends to the rear in a single, sweeping motion that rises at varying angles depending on the model, lending the car a pronounced wedge shape.

Interior Design

Driver orientation and ergonomics

BMW 6 Series - Interior BMW design is known for its driver-oriented approach. The ergonomic configuration of the interior firmly defers to the driver: important operating and control elements in the instrument panel and centre console are angled towards the driving seat for optimum visibility and are thus within the driver’s direct reach.

Likewise, all the display elements are arranged in the driver’s direct field of vision so that information relevant to various driving situations is easily accessible.

This methodical focus on the driver not only emphasizes the ergonomics but also the strong emotional aspect of the interior design.

Stretched, horizontal lines accentuate the airiness and size of the interior, creating a sense of space that has a restful effect on the eye.

The horizontal layout of the instrument panel counterpoints the vertically configured centre console with its technical features.

The front aspect of the interior appears large and airy; this spaciousness perceived by the driver and passengers combines with the maximum possible range of technical features to form a perfect composition.

The horizontal alignment of the interior design not only creates breadth but, thanks to the airy ambience, evokes a sense of agility as well. A deliberately suggested, subtle flow of lines is open to interpretation by the observer.

Surface design

BMW 6 Series - InteriorThe sensitive design of the interior surfaces likewise subtly addresses the subliminal level of perception among the car’s occupants, while a delicate play of light and shade engenders a lively formal language.

By analogy with the human anatomy, a BMW interior is virtually devoid of flat surfaces.

Instead, individual surfaces come together in a flowing, organic motion before breaking free from each other again. Clear lines define the individual surfaces and demarcate them from one another.


The individual character of each model is also expressed in the special interplay of surfaces and lines that follows the layering principle.

BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe - InteriorThis refers to levels made up of different materials that are arranged on top of each other and serve different purposes, bringing alive the interior surfaces and dynamics.

For the interior design of BMW cars, this layering approach ushers in a new, modern aesthetic and creates a visual lightness.

Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design explains: “We design moving products, both in the functional and in the emotional sense. Our design is authentic; it indicates what you can experience with our products and evokes the heritage of the brand.

“But our design is also geared towards the future and lends a face and soul to the cutting-edge technology that defines our products. Beyond that, our design evinces a keen attention to detail, with customers still discovering intriguing design elements years down the line.”

BMW design iconic elements

Over the years, the styling of BMW cars has produced a host of design icons which have become synonymous with the brand as a whole and, in some cases, signature features of individual models. Collectively, these elements have helped shape the identity of the brand and its cars.

BMW Design Icons - Front end BMW Design Icons - Kidneys

Front end

A kidney-shaped radiator grille and twin circular headlights “sawn off” along the top define the front end of a BMW. These distinctive “facial” features ensure that a BMW is clearly identifiable even without the brand logo on display.


The two-part, rounded-off radiator grille – known as the kidney grille – was established as an iconic feature of BMW cars in 1933. This design element has been a fixture across all the brand’s model series since 1935.

BMW Design Icons - Focused Look BMW Design Icons - Proportions

Focused look

The brand’s hallmark twin circular headlights are “sawn off” across the top, creating the distinctive focused look over the road ahead.


The proportions of BMW cars have become a hallmark feature. A long wheelbase, long, sweeping bonnet and set-back passenger compartment generate a feeling of dynamic urgency before the car so much as turns a wheel. In other words, a BMW needs only a single glance to tell you what it’s all about: Sheer Driving Pleasure.

BMW Design Icons - Hofmeister kink BMW Design Icons - Window design

Hofmeister kink

The Hofmeister kink – the counter-sweep at the foot of a BMW’s C-pillar as it meets the body – was named after Wilhelm Hofmeister. The former BMW Body Design Director first introduced this styling cue to BMW cars in 1961. The Hofmeister kink emphasises the car’s dynamic, forward-surging stance and hints at BMW’s traditional rear-wheel drive.

Window design

The side windows of a BMW, with their chrome-coloured surrounds and black B-pillars, recall the styling of classic coupés. Their long, low-profile design enhances the dynamic appearance of a BMW.

BMW Design Icons - Swage line BMW Design Icons - L-shaped rear lights

Swage line

The customary swage line of a BMW divides the car’s body and is a defining element of its side view. The designers use the swage line to enhance or dilute the wedge shape of the brand’s various models. The car’s door handles are integrated into the swage line, allowing its lavishly contoured surfaces to be showcased even more effectively.

L-shaped rear lights

The L-shaped design of the rear lights underlines the width of the rear end, which in turn visually enhances the car’s presence and stability.

BMW 5 Series - Interior Design Sketch BMW Design Icons - Driver-focused design

Driver-focused design

Important operating and control elements in the instrument panel and center console are angled visibly towards the driver, putting them directly within reach.

(Source: BMW)


Image Gallery

BMW: design DNA - Image 17
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BMW: design DNA - Image 19
BMW: design DNA - Image 22
BMW: design DNA - Image 21
BMW: design DNA - Image 15
BMW: design DNA - Image 4

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Leave a Comment

  1. Manpreet Bhattee

    wow wow i am loving it

    (via Facebook)
  2. Cesar Malabrigo Mujica

    thank you CBD!!

    (via Facebook)
  3. Freddie Lee Collins

    Good info

    (via Facebook)
  4. Rishabh Sinha

    jz luv the kidney grille n “sawn off” headlamps………..thnxxx CBD…:)

    (via Facebook)
  5. Akash Patel

    thnx for great information..

    (via Facebook)
  6. Zoe Chapman

    Design geek in me hearts this stuff…!

    (via Facebook)
  7. 17/5/2012


  8. André Domingues

    BMW Design is the most beautifull, elegant and dynamic design in car and motorcycle industry!

    (via Facebook)
  9. RAL

    bmw is making a good job in terms of design. They are designing thoroughly the side and rear views, which is just what audi and others are lacking (merc is also moving on). Unfortunately the 6-series front lamps looks utterly inappropiate for such an icon: in the distance you may think its a hyundai or similar.


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