BMW recently marked its 50th anniversary by inviting us to its Designworks Studios in Los Angeles, California. The company also took the opportunity to showcase its new design lab, which is now located in Santa Monica, having moved from its previous studio in Thousand Oaks, California. The new facility is smaller and more flexible, designed to support the shift from physical to digital design and development. Yet, covering an area of about 16,500 square feet, it is still the largest of the three global Designworks studios including locations in Munich and Shanghai.

Embracing The Digital World

Rather than relying on large clay sculpting and milling machines, the studio now relies on digital tools. According to BMW Group Head Designer, Adrian Van Hooydonk, the design industry is now in the digital era, and digital data is what designers pass on to engineers. While BMW Designworks sometimes goes straight from digital design to a concept car, the days of clay sculpting every car are over. Although the creative talents of designers remain essential, the tools they use are changing.

The Designworks Studios’ new location puts them at the heart of Los Angeles’ cultural hub, close to Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer, who has produced many iconic sounds for BMW. This location, according to Van Hooydonk, offers “a unique perspective that goes beyond the automotive industry in the field of design.” The studio is also located where many talented artists and designers live.

Enabling Remote Workers

Due to the pandemic, the studio has fewer desks than designers, as some work from home, and others come in to collaborate with their colleagues on certain days. The new studio also features a “holodeck,” a large, black conference room with walls made of a massive display and several 4K video cameras. The holodeck enables virtual meetings and collaborations on designs with Munich and Shanghai Design Studios. Designers can even wear virtual goggles to see and interact with car designs in 3D.

M Vision Next and M Hybrid V8

To showcase some of the unique products that emerge from the Designworks Studios, BMW exhibited the M Vision NEXT Concept, a futuristic and striking electric sports concept car. BMW Chief Designers joined a panel along with German sculptor and artist Thomas Demand to discuss their collaborations through artistic drawings.

The BMW M Hybrid V8 race car, which recently debuted at the 24 Hours of Daytona originated from Designworks as well. Michael Scully and Hussain Al-Attar where the lead designers of this unique racing car project. Additionally, the Designworks teams also work on software applications. For example, the studio created a special app to accompany the presentation of the BMW i Vision Dee at the 2023 CES. The app enables users to create a “digital twin” of the vehicle in any color or pattern with their smartphone, and project it virtually onto any background.

Designers at the Designworks Studios are great storytellers who live at the intersection of engineering and art. The studio takes ideas and philosophies and creates solutions for mobility, whether for BMW or external companies. According to BMW, the Designworks Studios function as the eyes and ears of BMW, helping the company interact with the real world. Adrian Van Hooydonk’s goal is to push designers to create more things than BMW could produce, as the opposite would be a catastrophe.

The studio was founded in 1972 in Malibu, California by Chuck Pelly. Holger Hampf has been at the helm of the consulting agency since 2017. Also feel free to take a look at the presentation of the new studio and the Vision M NEXT concept car with Adrian Van Hooydonk, BMW Group Head of Design.