Building a Path to Inspiration and Innovation Within the BMW Group

Staying ahead of change is critical for organizations to remain relevant in a highly dynamic market where established paradigms of competition are being broken.

It is well documented how incumbent companies in the Media, Entertainment and Hospitality industries have been disrupted by competitors with user-centric, technology solutions—so setting up the right platform to enable innovation is critical to maintaining a leadership position.

With the globalization of the automotive industry, it has long been a practice to set up satellite design studios in overseas markets to tap into local tastes, trends and talents. Consequently, many inspiring and market driven designs have come from automotive satellite studios now scattered across the globe.

Indeed, BMW Designworks itself has played a key role in the development of various BMW Group icons. In 1998, we were part of the design process for the BMW 3 Series and the BMW Z8. Over the years, our teams have been deeply involved in the design development of the X1, X3, X5, X6, X7, the Z4 and many more in the BMW Group.

Design sketch of the BMW X5

The BMW X5

But when BMW acquired Designworks as a consultancy in Los Angeles in 1995, it was looking not only for inspirational car designs but also to go beyond—to build an international platform for innovation and user centered understanding.

Through Designworks’ experiences with select clients in diverse industries, the studio brings deeper market and user-centric knowledge gathered in contexts outside the car, such as using a digital device or traveling on a plane, and in so doing builds an holistic user understanding of the designs it creates…and never has this been more important than now as our experiences connect digitally.

Today, Designworks is represented by three studios in Los Angeles, Shanghai and Munich with diverse teams and skillsets and shares its know-how from the complex automotive sector with clients from other industries in joint innovation projects.

Using a platform like Designworks for innovation, distanced from the rigors of the everyday corporate processes and operations, allows ideas time to breathe and flourish, which was the case in Designworks’ influence on the BMW i drive controller and the early phase design and sustainable build approach for the BMW i3 and i8 concept vehicles.

i8 Spyder Concept - Doors Open

The i8 Spyder Concept

While keeping one foot in the agile world of consulting and the other in the corporate world, the Designworks’ platform enables innovative ideas to surface while ensuring corporate empathy to implement those ideas towards reality… and to challenge from the outside in.

With such flexibility, innovation can be inspired through provocations. The iconic, shape-shifting GINA concept developed in 2009 between Designworks and BMW is often cited for its inspiring architecture and innovative use of materials.

But while inspiring the design language of the Z4 of that time, the value it represented is in responding to the provocation “is it possible to build cars without stamping sheet metal?”, and in so doing enables a path to lower volume builds without the costly tooling constraints that typically kill such programs.

The BMW GINA Concept Vehicle

Beyond influencing the next generation of vehicles, the Designworks innovation platform has helped shape the overall public brand perception with influencers such as the BMWi Inside FUTURE and the BMWi Interaction EASE, seen at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

The BMWi Interaction EASE and the BMWi Inside FUTURE were developed in close collaboration with the BMW Group design teams in our LA studio. Combining a variety of technologies that explore how autonomous and connected vehicles will be experienced, the concepts provide a shared BMW vision at the forefront of premium, individual mobility that give passengers the freedom to move and the freedom to be in control of their travel time and experiences.

The BMW i Interaction EASE includes touchless technology and eye-tracking and illustrates the power of embedded technology

The diversity of Designworks’ teams, both physical and digital, combined with diverse industry knowledge has made it the ideal candidate to explore BMW experiences beyond the automotive realm. For example, in 2014 the BMW Group turned to Designworks and its extensive knowledge of carbon fiber—having used it on the i3 design—to design the BMW sponsored US Olympic Bobsled which helped the US men’s team medal for the first time since 1952.

And more recently in 2017, Austrian professional base jumper and skydiver Peter Salzmann and the BMW i team asked Designworks to support them in enabling the first ever electric wingsuit flight. Three years later, in November 2020, Salzmann jumped from a helicopter at an altitude of 3,000 meters and reached an e-powered speed of over 300 km/h for about five minutes over the Austrian Alps.

While not the first time BMW i asked Designworks to push the boundaries of e-mobility, this was on a completely new dimension!

The BMW Electric Wingsuit | The BMW Olympic Bobsled

As both a think tank for BMW Group as well as a design agency to a diverse group of clients, the Designworks-BMW Group relationship is a unique one in the industry built to inspire and innovate.

If you are interested in finding out more, explore our milestone projects for the BMW Group below to get an idea of what it means to be a source of inspiration and innovation for the best automotive company in the world!

Want to Learn More?

For more information, please contact Michael Scully, Global Director of Automotive, Designworks, A BMW Group Company.