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50 years of Future with Designworks: The BMW Group subsidiary celebrates its anniversary

A unique model in the automotive industry: collaboration with clients from different industries enables an outside-in perspective and innovative design solutions for the BMW Group

Designworks, the innovation studio of the BMW Group, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The consulting agency for design and innovation was instrumental in the design development of the BMW X model range, played a driving role in the design concept for the BMW i electric brand and is behind many of the BMW Group’s visionary vehicles, such as the GINA Light Visionary Model.

With locations in Los Angeles, Munich and Shanghai and clients from various industries, the studios provide important impulses on global, design-relevant phenomena to the company headquarters. Designworks was founded in 1972 by US industrial designer Chuck Pelly in a garage in Malibu, California. It has been a wholly owned subsidiary of the BMW Group since 1995. The 130 creatives that make up the Designworks team see themselves as “Architects of future”.

The BMW Group’s recipe for success: the independent profit center completes about half of its nearly 300 projects a year for the BMW Group, while the other half consists of collaborations with selected external digital and mobility clients. This model gives the BMW Group an outside-in perspective that is unique in the industry. No other automobile manufacturer has a design studio that is in any way comparable.

Well positioned for the future: “Excellent chance of being successful”.

The biggest challenge in the coming years will be the transformation of the BMW Group and the entire automotive industry towards electrification, digitalization and sustainability. Designworks will be alongside this transformation and fuel it with strong, creative and innovative ideas. Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design, is optimistic about the future: “This change affects the entire industry. We will need all our creativity and advanced thinking to find the best solutions. The set-up we have with Designworks gives us an excellent chance of being successful.”

From design shaping to new business potential.

Designworks is involved in many of the BMW Group’s internal tasks – from shape design and strategy development to identifying new business potential. 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 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.”

Working for a wide variety of industries, Designworks has been involved in the design concepts of seating furniture, aircraft, underground rail, bicycles, boats, sporting goods, air taxis (eVTOLs), agricultural and forestry machinery, a hyperloop and more. The knowledge and creativity transfer also works in the opposite direction: Gaining knowledge from diverse projects with the parent company, Designworks is able to open up new design horizons for its external partners. The understanding of premium mobility, brand differentiation under one corporate umbrella and the knowledge of challenges in the innovation process in large companies are strong arguments for external clients to work with the BMW Group subsidiary.

Antennas to the world.

Designworks is seen by the BMW Group as a valuable link to people, their wishes and expectations far beyond the automotive context. As an important innovation driver, the BMW Group involves its creative “think tank” in many challenging future projects.

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.

Advanced Design: Answers to previously unasked questions.

In the BMW Group’s Advanced Design, it is the task of the innovation subsidiary to raise and explore questions about the future of mobility that have not been asked. In doing so, the teams are to develop innovative approaches to topics and problems that the BMW Group is not yet actively addressing. The intention is to be provocative – and to think mobility off the beaten path. “Designworks is able to do this because it constantly has its “eyes and ears” on the pulse of the times at three locations, as Adrian van Hooydonk puts it. “Advanced Design gives us the creative energy we need to be really competitive.”


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