Some insights from a designer who is influenced by artists ranging from Picasso to Radiohead and who has spent his entire professional design career at BMW Group.
Anders Warming is the head of MINI Design. He’s had a variety of positions within BMW Design (including time at DesignworksUSA) before landing his current position in December 2010, when he succeeded Gert Hildebrand (autofieldguide.com/articles/the-credibility-of-continuity-at-mini).
On Clarity “I believe the clarity of the brand helps you as a designer. The clearer the brand, the stronger the statement, and the more people, customers, like and love the brand, the more clear the direction the way the train is headed becomes. My job is to keep this train heading the right way.” But he also points out that one of the advantages to working on a clearly defined brand like MINI is that when there are discussions with designers as well as customers about what’s next, there is a fairly clear understanding of what’s appropriate, there is more unanimity and consensus and less bickering and fighting.
On Purposefulness in Design MINI vehicles are known by several design cues. Like the elliptical headlamps fitted into the hood, a rising shoulder line on the body side, a greenhouse that seems to be a band of glass wrapped around the car, the wheels at the corners.
“I do believe that these are very clear icons and a clear focus on what the brand is all about, and all of these are there for a purpose. The proportions of the car, the positions of the wheels—there are engineering reasons why the car is built like this.”
On the Intersection of Design & Engineering “Designing MINIs is a gratify-ing job because the cars drive well. They are efficient. They go well. Yes, we are designers, but we’re not just about painting the cars in pretty colors, so to speak. We’re about integrity in engineering.
“The more I think about it and go in depth with the team, I find that really good design, by definition, is the direct middle, meaning the balance of two factors: aesthetics and engineering. If you balance aesthetics and engineering, you have a successful design. If we tip the scale a bit and go 60% engineering and 40% aesthetics, it is not our favorite car. It is a good car, but not a favorite. If we go over the top with aesthetics, it is not an all-time great, either. Hit the dead middle mark and you get a good design. MINI is a proper brand for that.”
“The Rocketman Concept was based on everything I just said: the perfect balance between engineering and aesthetics, but projecting everything that is MINI into the future. Is this a car for 2030? It doesn’t look like a car that would be outdated by a certain date.”
On Timelessness “The original MINI, to my eyes, is still a modern statement, just like the Fender Stratocaster is a modern statement. There is a reason why a Steinway piano has the shape it does. I’m not getting tired of looking at it. I can still enjoy it. The same with the MINI. And I believe that in 2050 we’re still going to enjoy the look of MINI. It is still going to be valid because it comes from an engineering basis.”
On Materials One of the vehicles that Warming worked on when he was with BMW Group Design is the GINA Light Visionary Model. It was revealed in 2008. GINA stands for “Geometry and Functions In ‘N’ Adaptations.” Rather than being a traditional concept car, it was, as that expanded name indicates, a true design study, one that was meant to provide a new approach to vehicle design and execution. The outer skin of GINA is not a metal or a plastic. It is a fabric with a supporting metal mesh stretched over a metal substructure.
The substructure is controlled such that it moves under the fabric. Oftentimes people refer to “folds” on the exterior of vehicles. GINA truly has folds. GINA is a two-seater. As is the recently introduced MINI Roadster, which has a fabric top, not a folding metal top. Discussing GINA and the Roadster, Warming says:
“They have completely different looks. One is John Galliano and the other Jil Sander. Two worlds you can’t compare. The visuals are not comparable. But both are at a high level in terms of the thinking behind them.
“The thinking with GINA had a lot to do with the fact that there are things you don’t know. Part of what we human beings have to come to terms with are the limits of what we know right here and now. I will know more in five minutes when you tell me something. Tomorrow I will know more. You have to keep learning.
“GINA is a project we didn’t do for you or for anyone here. We did it for ourselves. We never planned to show it. We did it internally to learn from it. Where are the limits of our controlling surfacing? The challenge was we dictate splines and Mother Nature will dictate the curvature in between them. And we learned from it. We’d see the natural.
“The Roadster is a soft-top. And I like the fact that between the splines there is a slight line hanging through. Because that is what nature does.”