Exclusive Interview: Adrian Von Hooydonk – BMW Design Director

Interesting | January 20th, 2010 by 39
2010 detroit auto show 231 750x500 Exclusive Interview: Adrian Von Hooydonk   BMW Design Director

Detroit Auto Show gave us an unique opportunity to speak with the BMW Design Director and the man in charge of BMW’s future design language, …

Detroit Auto Show gave us an unique opportunity to speak with the BMW Design Director and the man in charge of BMW’s future design language, Adrian Von Hooydonk.

Born in the Netherlands, Adrian Von Hooydonk studied at Delft Polytechnic University in Holland and later at the Art Center Europe in Vevey, Switzerland, until 1992. From there he came to Munich, where he joined BMW as a designer. In the year 2000 he went to California to work for the BMW Group subsidiary Designworks USA. He was Director of the internationally renowned design agency from 2001 to 2004.

Then, under Bangle as the BMW Group’s Head of Design, he became Head of the Brand Design Studio for BMW Automobiles.

2010 detroit auto show 261 655x435 Exclusive Interview: Adrian Von Hooydonk   BMW Design Director

Some of the cars “penned” under his design influence are the BMW 6 and 7 Series lines, as well the Z9 Concept Car, the BMW Concept CS and the M1 Hommage Study.

In February 2009, BMW AG named Van Hooydonk the BMW Design Director and a new era began for the Bavarian automaker.

What design trends (outside of automotive design) do you see showing up soon in automotive designs ? (Sculpting, machine tools, appliances, colors, fabrics, metal surface details, wood)

Adrian Von Hooydonk: That is really a big question, I have a team of 450 designers working on just that. For the BMW brand, it will always be about emotional design, we know that we design cars for people that love to drive and this is something that our customers will see on our cars. When you see a BMW parked, you should already start thinking about how it would be to drive that car, to be emotional with that vehicle.

…BMW brand, it will always be about emotional design

I think we have fine tuned our design language, it is still very sculptured and now we are able to make the surface changes in a very very subtle way. We are launching one new car after another in the next couple of years and that means the design team has been super busy in the past three years. Right now I am looking forward to the launch of the new 5 Series which I believe it will look very good on the road.

How has the current economic outlook influenced colors in design? There is a belief that we are seeing many more ‘grays’ available as color options on cars in the past couple of years.

Adrian Von Hooydonk: I think color is making a comeback. Over the last years, and you probably haven’t seen that yet here, especially since in this country, and I’ve lived here for 5 years, you see a lot of black and silver BMWs. This is typically also the color the dealers or the leasing companies specify. But I think the consumers are having a great interest in colors now and we’re going to offer more interesting choices in the future. The very sporty Z4 we’re launching here in Detroit, features a metallic red which I think it is a very nice color and very strong color statement.

How will increasing ‘by-wire’ features (braking, steering) influence interior design?

Adrian Von Hooydonk: All these drive-by wire features influence design. They require a little bit less interior package space, so this will free up some space, but typically safety features need more space. We have now a lot of airbags in the interior, but so far we haven’t been able to make cars more compact because of that and also because some of these drive-by wire features are still extras that you can order; and as long as they are not standard, we cannot really build the car around these smaller technologies.

But I think we are going there and in the next ten years, we will be there.

How are new drivetrain packages changing design, or constricting design freedom (electric vehicles, hybrid powertrains, even alternative fuels with the possibility of high pressure fuel containers)?

Adrian Von Hooydonk: I think the new drivetrains, such as electric mobility, are around the corner. When we will get there, we’ll be able to do a completely different car design. The first outlook we gave in Frankfurt last year with the Vision EfficientDynamics. A very low and wide car, very sporty and yet it seats four people. We were only able to do it because of this new  drivetrain that uses a very small three cylinder engine combined with two electric motors. All together, those engines deliver a performance like an M3, but they are much smaller.

This is just around the corner, but it’s coming. Right now, we’re still in a phase where we’re doing hybrid cars. So you have two engines that are fairly large, like in this X6 where you have a conventional V8 engine, very powerful, then you have a big battery in the back. When you do hybrids, you need more space. As soon as we go to this  radically new drivetrains that we’re working on and things like Project i, then we will have more freedom in design.

As soon as we go to this radically new drivetrains that we’re working on and things like Project i, then we will have more freedom in design.

How have pedestrian impact standards effected the ‘F’ code cars?

Adrian Von Hooydonk: These regulations are not making our job easier, that’s for sure. I think what you can see on the F10 5 Series is that we are still able to fulfill all these regulations and make the car look like BMW, make it look really good. The F10 has a very very sporty front-end and you would never imagine that we had to fulfill all these difficult regulations. I’m very optimistic that we, together with our engineers, will still be able to build good looking cars.

But it is not getting easier, that’s for sure.

Are we going to see more cars being designed from the inside out, as we have seen with the 5 Series GT?

Adrian Von Hooydonk: It could be. Our customers expect more from their cars. They want to be able to do more with their vehicles, the 5 Series GT is a great example of a car that drives and handles like a BMW, very sporty, looks elegant from the outside, but it is much more versatile. This is the first car that we built from inside out and we would like to see how it’s being received. Until now, we’re very happy, there are more orders than we planned for at this point in time, and that’s always a good sign. But it’s still early days and if it continues, we can very well imagine doing more cars having these kind of functionality.

Besides the kidney grille and Hofmeister kink, what other design elements are common across the BMW lineup?

Adrian Von Hooydonk: I think you and your readers know all of them.

Certainly, but we’re trying to introduce the new readers and fans to the brand.

Adrian Von Hooydonk: In BMW design, we always talk about proportions, surface and details, in that order. I think there is no other company like BMW that spends so much time looking at proportions, the relation between length, width and height. If you look at the new 5 Series, for example, I think that is going to be the sedan with the best proportion on the market. It has a very long wheelbase, very big wheels, the length compared to the height of the car looks really good with a very long hood. We spent a lot of time getting the proportions right.

After that, we look at surface, and of course, we are very good at making these subtle surface changes.

In BMW design, we always talk about proportions, surface and details

The 5 series doesn’t have many lines, only two of them in the body side, just like the 7 Series, the rest is sculpture. We are able to make the 5 Series look very dynamic and lightweight. Afterward come the details, we talk about the things you mentioned, kidneys, double-round headlamp with the corona rings which are going to be fed by LEDs starting with the 5 GT. Therefore, even during the day, BMWs will be easily recognizable.

You have already mentioned the Hofmeister Kink. Then we have what we call, L-shape taillights. Starting with the 7 Series, in those taillights we have included these light bars, same as we did in the Z4 and 5 GT, fed by LED, so also at night you will be able to recognize a BMW in traffic.

All of these, we call icons in BMW car design.

Would you say that the new 5 Series is making a comeback to the more classic BMW design?

Adrian Von Hooydonk: Compared to the E60, maybe the F10 is more evolutionary than revolutionary. But I think it’s an evolution in the BMW sense because this car has been developed in a direction of more elegance and sportiness. That’s exactly what BMW stands for, this combination of elegance and sportiness.

The 5 Series is the core of the brand…

The 5 Series is the core of the brand, this is the car that really defines the brand because the 5 Series is being purchased by people that drive long distances, love to drive and people that know our design history as well.

So, the 5 series has to be 120% BMW, that’s what I sometimes say and I think the new 5 Series truly is that.

What company, other than BMW, has a good handle on design?

Adrian Von Hooydonk: I’m sure there are good designers in many other companies. In Europe, Renault is doing well, they have a new Dutch Design Chief, so I’m curious to see what they are going to do.

I’m just very happy to be working where I am because I think there is no other company to build a car that handles so well, and that our engineers are also able to understand what we, as designers, want.

This is unique!

If you have that, then engineers really love designers as well, therefore you get the proportions right, you get the engineers to also feel the complex shapes in metal and aluminium. I simply cannot imagine a better company to work for as a designer than BMW.

What concinnity means to BMW’s design team, how do they approach concinnity, what guides them to beauty? ( WIKI link )

Adrian Von Hooydonk: It’s a word that we use a lot. Every new BMW should be unique, recognizable as a BMW, and we already talked about how to make a car look like a BMW. Also, each BMW should have a few features that define its character. After this, what we spent a lot of time on is looking around the car and look at every side again making sure all the things are in harmony with one another.

… each BMW should have a few features that define its character

Once we have found the design idea, we spend almost an year refining it, making sure concinnity is achieved. Sometimes we only move a line by a couple of milliliters to achieve it, but the effect is something that can be quite amazing.

So that was a very good question.

Adrian Von Hooydonk: Yes, you have well informed readers and colleagues.

How does BMW ensure that the initial joy of purchasing a BMW remains once it becomes familiar to the user?

Adrian Von Hooydonk: That’s a good question also. For me, the design is the promise and then when you drive the car, we have to deliver that promise and typically, BMW does. We talked about how BMW looks like it would drive very well also; we also have sharp lines in exterior design and those are for us an expression of precision. This is a precision you will experience when you drive the car, precision in steering, shifting gears, braking, everything you operate in a BMW has very precise feedback. The design can already communicate that from the exterior, then you drive the car and you can actually experience it.

Then we of course, we look at the small details that at first, you won’t even notice. You will only notice over time. On the 7 Series, I think one such detail is around the Hofmeister Kink where we put a line above it, right in the metal. This is the biggest piece of metal in the car, so it’s really hard to accomplish from an engineering point of view.

…you will see this very subtle shape that gives the Hofmeister Kink a 3-Dimensional look.

We did it as one of those things that maybe one day, after you purchased the 7 Series and as you walk back to your car, the sun setting on it, you will see this very subtle shape that gives the Hofmeister Kink a 3-Dimensional look. Up until this point, it was a 2-Dimensional graphic. We also put many little details, like the aerodynamic feature on the taillights.

So there are a lot of things to be discovered on the car, even after several years, and one could think “This is very nice that the designers thought about this”.

What kind of car guy would you say you are?

Adrian Von Hooydonk: I love design and I love cars, always loved them and enjoy driving them. I drive an M3 Coupe, so I like sporty driving as well with more compact, powerful cars. My M3 has an experimental body color on it, matte Black metallic. If you’re wondering already, then yes, you probably are going to see this paint since the M guys decided do a limited edition of the particular color materials that I specified for my car, together with my team.

What do you think will happen to automotive design in the future? What do you think of Bono from U2 saying that cars need to “get back to being sexy”? (New York Times article )

Adrian Von Hooydonk:I read his interview and was very happy since I couldn’t agree more. If you look at Vision EfficientDynamics, this was exactly our mission, the task I gave my design team. Because everybody knows that, YES, mobility will change, YES, we are going to see more hybrid and electric cars, but none of this makes sense if those cars don’t look higly desirable.

YES, it is possible to make cars that are desirable and green.

In that car, we wanted to do something that first and  foremost is very emotional, desirable. If people absolutely wanted the design, then the question about technology comes later. With that car, you can drive out of your neighborhood electrically powered, zero emission, then out in the open road, you use a conventional engine and go as fast as you are used to going with a BMW.

So YES, it is possible to make cars that are desirable and green. That’s what Bono was referring to and we are going to deliver.

What are some of your favorite BMWs of all time?

Adrian Von Hooydonk: That’s an easy question to answer. It’s the BMW 3.0CS…..that to me is still the car that has the entire BMW DNA built in it. It has sharp lines, looks very stretched, light and nimble, it has driver orientation inside, and I just think it’s very sporty and an elegant looking car.

A  beautiful car!

Of course I like the 2002 as well. I LIKE the M1, these are my favorites. And I might be a little biased now, but I like the 6 Series as well.

I wonder who designed it?! (Note: Adrian penned the 6 Series)

Since we’re on this topic with a personal approach, what other cars are in your garage?

Adrian Von Hooydonk: 2002 and a BMW classic motorcycle, R69S.

Outside of automotive design, what are some of your favorite hobbies and things to do?

Adrian Von Hooydonk: I like traveling, architecture, arts, love visiting museum, industrial design as well or designs in general. I designed more than just cars, e.g. a chair, a couch and others. And as I said, I like driving.

Since we mentioned Designworks, do you see a lot of value coming out of there?

Adrian Von Hooydonk: Designworks has a very high hit rate in terms of design. The upcoming X3 was initially drawn by a Designworks designer, so they have strong skills. They always contribute to our design competitions and get a design proposal from California as well; and they have been very succesful.

I dont think there is any other California-based studio that has been so successful. The X5, X6, first designs came from California. Many car companies have design studios in the area , but not many of these contribute to production cars.

Designworks has.

Thank you again for your time and the great answers.

Adrian Von Hooydonk: Anytime, please give my regards to your readers.

A special thanks to BMW North America for setting up the interview!

39 responses to “Exclusive Interview: Adrian Von Hooydonk – BMW Design Director”

  1. badger says:

    very cool

  2. bob says:

    Re: concinnity,

    This is the first time I’ve read a BMW designer discuss concinnity; and, only the second time in the context of BMW design.

    For SPORTS CAR INTERNATIONAL, March 2003, pg. 26-27, Del Coates contributed his “Styling Analysis” of the E85. He discussed concinnity at length, both objective & subjective, in the text portion; and, provided an accompanying drawing to highlight several examples on the E85. Most interesting…

    …as is this interview with AvH!

  3. Victor says:

    He studied Industrial Design Engineering at the Technical University of Delft. And the Dutch designer at Renault did study thesame.

    • bob says:

      Feb. ’10 issue of CAR has interview with Laurens van den Acker.


  4. atr_hugo says:

    Del Coates, “Watches Tell More Than Time” – great book and it’s still floating around for sale. :-)

    • Horatiu B. says:

      Hugo, this was mostly you. Great questions and I made sure everyone knew where they came from :) I hope you liked the answers

      • atr_hugo says:

        Horatiu, I’m glad you gave me the opportunity to contribute. You did great!!

        • Horatiu B. says:

          Without any false modesty, I have to say again, your questions and Josh’s, were great and believe me, Adrian appreciated that. We do enough rumors and speculations around here, and quality journalism (blogging if you want) is needed sometimes.

          Once again, thank you and I have a feeling we will be doing more interviews in the future, as we talked :)

  5. Brookside says:

    This is one of the best interviews of a car designer I’ve read in a long time; and far and away the best interview w. AvH because it really gets to defining the focus of the change in direction (post-Bangle) of BMW design. It hinges on the interpretation of beauty (as Horatiu mentions) and the difference between AvH and Bangle’s distinction of terms and their idea of aesthetics.
    Concinnity is about harmony and balance..too much of it and the results can be bland. It’s not that there can be too much “beauty” but in seeking that goal concepts like drama, innovation, and tension can be put on the back burner while an allegiance to the idea of perfectness can devolve into banality, conformity and an allegiance to the past.
    Thanks Hugo & Horatiu for raising the bar.

    • Horatiu B. says:

      Thank you Jim, I appreciate the kind words. Hugo and Josh deserve most of the credit, I mostly provided guidance on what things we’re looking for.

      The interview came out great since we wanted to focus on current products and design, and any attempt to ask about future products would have failed, and honestly, that was not the intent of this interview. Adrian was there to tell us more about the design process, philosophy and to share with us from his vast experience. All we did was to ask the right questions and let him take control of the discussion.

      It also helped that Adrian is passionate about car design that our 30 minutes ran out pretty quick. Also enjoyed the little exclusive news on the matte Black finish.

      Unfortunately, our audio and video did not come out great, so decided to hold off. The interview time was moved and had only 5 min to prepare and technical issues came up, but we’ll be ready next time.

      • Brookside says:

        OK…I’m waiting for the Anders Warming interview….??
        & definitely interested in metallic matte black…genius idea- almost a contradiction in terms…glossy and flat simultaneously…it’s the androgyne of paint…able to swing both ways.

      • atr_hugo says:

        Ah, matte paints, hot rodders have been doing that since the ’40s. ; -)

    • bob says:

      It would seem a little premature to discuss change in design direction since, well, they hasn’t been any yet.

      As Horatiu said, asking about future products would’ve been pointless or even counter-productive.

      We won’t see any results of the AvH directorship for approx. 3-5 years. Until then it’s still Bangle’s. In fact, as we speak, he’s still under contract with BMW AG.

      • Brookside says:

        Yes Bob, Bangle still collects a check…you’ve said that before. But he doesn’t work at BMW, and hasn’t for about a year.
        And it’s never to early to speculate on what direction AvH will take BMW design.

        • bob says:

          It’s funny in a way. The mass psychosis surrounding CB has caused some to lose sight of what’s involved & who’s involved in it.
          Auto manufacturing is an enormously complex & highly capital-intensive industry, with commensurately long leadtimes. It takes several years to create a new car. Not a week, month or one year. For BMW’s core models like the 3-5-7 Series, i.e., where a successor model is certain to follow, they cannot afford to wait ‘til the last minute to start development work. Generally-speaking, shortly after a current model hits SOP, work begins on the next model. Internally, every BMW product eventually goes on what’s known as its “Critical Path”; the duration lasting 5 years leading up to SOP.
          AvH gave a great example, above, in the part about concinnity: It may take them almost a year to refine a line a couple of millimeters. That must happen prior to Design Freeze, of course, which itself takes place roughly 2 ½ years before SOP. Hmm, if it takes that long for a minor change, and CB left his day-to-day function less than a year ago, do the math…
          Possibly the most unfortunate Q was if the F10 represented a comeback to classic BMW design. To the extent that ‘classic’ can be interpreted to mean ‘pre-Bangle’ then, AvH is absolutely the last person to ask, as it was his hand that produced the E65-66 & E63-64; Warming’s the E85. Further AvH referred to the F10 not as a change vis-à-vis the E60 but an evolution. An evolution of whose direction?!
          We can postulate, pontificate and/or speculate all we’d care to about change in design, aesthetics, blah, blah, blah…The facts don’t support it. At this time, we don’t even know *if* there will be a substantive change, circa 2015-2016.

  6. Auday says:

    nice interview! glad to hear that the 3.0cs is his favourite BMW

  7. Misha says:

    I really appreciate all the time you took to post this. Many thanks to all who contributed!

  8. Joe says:

    I have a hole new appreciation for this guy. Amazing interview and I love his taste in cars, clothes, and watches :). Thanks for the fantastic job! A die hard BMW fan forever! Can’t wait to pickup my K1300R .. need the snow to stop!

  9. The Lee says:

    Great interview. Even better that it was in-house and not a copy+paste from someone else’s site.

    I’m not typically one to sit down and read such things, but I thoroughly enjoyed this post. Thanks, Horatiu, Hugo, and anyone else that posed such questions in the first place.

    I have to admit, though, the pic probably isn’t the best. Makes you look like you’re ignoring him and makes him look completely disinterested to be there with someone that’s ignoring him. :D

  10. Alex Vintu says:

    and yes, I would agree with you, have seen him nearby in person and noticed his balanced masculine elegance, that goes for shoes as well. Too bad, I dont have your eye for watches :)

  11. Hunter says:

    I have a serious man crush on that guy. Great interview!

  12. Giom says:

    This was a great read – very informative. Nice to ‘hear’ an interview with some personal angles as well.

    What stood out for me was the passion this man has for the brand – just the sort of person you want at the helm.

  13. Beach says:

    Mr. Von Hooydonk’ s designs, though beautiful and balanced, lack the edginess and forward thinking of Mr. Bangles’. From the interview it strikes me that he is rather cautious and contemplative, which makes him safe, I guess.

    • Horatiu B. says:

      He is a bit more balanced, cautious, but maybe that’s the design line BMW wants to take now and honestly, the new 5 is amazing and will do better than any other 5 before. Now if we could only get the 530d here in the US, everyone raves about that car

  14. John says:

    It’s vAn Hooydonk, not vOn!

    This is one of the rare good things from the Netherlands, so it’s kinda important to get the name right. Of course he belongs to the smarter people and left the Netherlands behind, but beside from that …

    Personally, i feel his designs are not too great. I miss the powerful expression BMW’s once had. He takes the middle road too much, the compromise. No seriously, for the first time in my live i really wonder if I want to be seen in the new 5-series :( I feel it’s a step back. A step back from the powerful expression BMW’s should have, being not an average car.

  15. Brookside says:

    It’s interesting you bring up van Hooydonk’s Dutch roots. The Netherland’s has a history of recognizing social differences and then arriving at a consensus solution….
    much like the way AvH has steered BMW design.

  16. Ozcan says:

    These days I am reading the best articles I’ve ever read about car design, together with Aysar Ghassan’s article “An Analysis of ‘Joy” on carbodydesign, which is also about BMW, your interview is top quality i think. I appreciate your questions about their design language and details as well as predicting the future.

    Well done I think!

  17. Dave Lowe says:

    I hope the new BMW 6 will look like the rendering done by Leftlane 2012 BMW 6. It would be such a handsome coupe. But they got to redo the back of the existing 6, so damn butt ugly, like the rear of the 7 series that Bangle designed, 2002 to 2005. They need to go back to the horizontal lines from the earlier generation, and make it as handsome as the front. Not one of those butt ugly backs like the Nissan Z or the Vettes. God they ugly. Just my 2 cents worth. If they listen, it’ll be the BMW I’ve been waiting for, where the front is as good looking as the back. Well, the current 3’s are quite a looker, but small for me. The new 2011 5 is SHARP looking both front and back……dual exhaust, wow. Love it. Just waiting to see if the 6 will look the way I would like it…..

  18. Moses Dlamini says:

    i have 13 bmw designs for the bmw company. you may contact me at the following numbers ;+263733442307 ,+263777574991. thankyou

Leave a Reply