BMW Head of Design: “Sometimes design icons need to change”

2020 has been a challenging year for everyone, and that includes automakers as well. BMW, for example, launched a series of new products which are some of the most important models to the brand. In Summer 2020, BMW unveiled the 4 Series Coupe, a previously popular model, but quite controversial with the new design language. Of course, the controversy can be attributed mostly to the oversized kidney grille.

A few months later, BMW delivered another new product: the G80 M3 and G82 M4. And as we expected, the bread-and-butter models of the M family featured a similar oversized kidney grille. And customers’ feedback through online mediums has been quite brutal. All these new products lacked a proper marketing launch. And more than ever, these new BMWs needed an in-person experience.

Earlier this week, we “sat down” with BMW Head of Design, Domagoj Dukec, and briefly with BMW Group Design Chief Adrian Van Hooydonk. Naturally, one of the main topics of discussion was the recent design language and feedback received. “Some products – being cars or other physical items – are best experienced in person,” said Herr Dukec during an online meeting. “And we believe that customers will have a different opinion of the new kidney grille when they see the new M3/M4 in real life,” added the BMW Head of Design.

According to Dukec, the company already received positive feedback from customers who finally had the chance to see the new products in person. But we had to press a bit more. Next we talked about the customer base for the renewed M3/M4 and what it means in terms of design. A quick PowerPoint presentation aimed to reveal the thought process behind designing the new cars, and especially the bold kidney grille.

The Y and Z Generations

And the use case for this design revolved around a new customer persona. BMW calls that them the “Expressive Performers” and “Elegant Creators”. Now I might not be the most creative person in the world, but my brain processed this as the intersection of the Y and Z generations with the freedom in thinking, and/or creating new products, or even lifestyles. This new generation of customers was often quoted in the presentation, and it’s clear that BMW had them in mind when creating some of these new products. Especially on the electric side of things. The “Elegant” part will likely apply to products like the new 4 Series Gran Coupe which has always had a sleek and elegant presence.

But what’s interesting though is that a small research conducted among our own readers or followers – granted a very small sample of the entire BMW universe – revealed that the Y and Z generation is actually quite interested in analog and old school products. Most of them appreciate the openness and freedom of social media, but at the same time, they are old schoolers at heart who appreciate things like the iconic BMW double round headlamp design, or the equally iconic Hofmeister Kink. Or even music vinyls or cassettes, as Herr Dukec concluded as well.

So how do you design of such a diversified customer base, likely more fragmented than ever? Dukec believes that while design icons are extremely important to the brand, changes need to occur over time. This is why today, new BMW models have “squircles” ( a term coined by Duckec) instead of double circle headlights. And following the same logic, the Hofmeister Kink was next on the list of changes.

The BMW Head of Design hinted that no company can be forever bound to a set of design rules, especially in times when many other automakers have copied those design icons. He also mentioned how the Hofmeister Kink served a purpose back in the day, especially in the functionality of the rear quarter panel. But the new design styling doesn’t necessarily need to rely on “Kink” as we know it hence why some of the new BMW models either have a revised and modern interpretation of the kink, or they simply lack the iconic design cue.

Was There A Middle Ground?

In a way, the same logic was applied to the kidney grille. BMW has once built a name for itself with the large and imposing grilles, before downsizing to the kidneys we all got to love and appreciate. Dukec also says that the Vision NEXT 100 concept car previewed this new design styling, one that’s supposed to take the company into the future. I wish I had the time to ask why the design team didn’t preserve or copy that particular kidney grille since it’s a good compromise between futuristic looks and heritage. But hopefully we get an answer to that question in the near future.

Whether this new design language is successful, remains to be seen. But a couple of things are certain. Firstly, BMW truly believes in this new approach and customers’ embracement of it. Secondly, the large kidney grille won’t trickle down to other BMW products, only to selective model lines based on that customer base and fit.

Article Credit: BMW Blog. Author: Horatiu Boeriu