Stepping into the newly minted Santa Monica headquarters of BMW Designworks feels like entering a portal to the future. This design innovation studio, a subsidiary of the BMW Group, isn’t just about crafting sleek car exteriors. Their mission, as we discovered during a recent visit, is far more ambitious: to shape the future of mobility and human experience as a whole.

Designworks operates as the powerhouse behind BMW Group’s design strategy, boasting a global presence with studios in the United States, Munich, and Shanghai. This network of “three local powers” combines their energy to offer a comprehensive 360-degree perspective on global trends and consumer needs.

More Than Just Automotive Design

Gone are the days of design studios solely focused on aesthetics. Designworks boasts a global presence and a rich 50-year history. Here in Santa Monica, a new location since 2022, a vibrant team of creative minds unites. Their collaborative spirit is palpable, evident in the studio’s diverse portfolio that stretches from iconic BMW models and futuristic concept cars to luxurious airplane cabins and even the upcoming bus shelters for Los Angeles. Among their clients you will find John Deere, EVA Air, Singapore Airlines, Bavaria Yachtbau, ASUS and more.

Noteworthy is their contribution to BMW’s automotive legacy, with seminal models like the X series and the i3 originating from their creative minds. The i3, in particular, stands as a testament to Designworks’ forward-thinking, being an iconic yet largely misunderstood vehicle that was ahead of its time, as Julia de Bono, CEO of Designworks, told us.

BMW Is Still The Largest Account

De Bono also told us that a pivotal aspect of Designworks’ operation is its role as a profit center, functioning like a classic agency with BMW’s design development in Munich as its largest account. However, its reach extends to various industries, allowing the studio to gather unique insights and apply them across BMW’s brands. This cross-pollination of ideas is evident in their concept cars, some of which are public-facing while others remain internal, pre-developmental projects that push the envelope of automotive design.

De Bono also brings a lot of automotive expertise from Munich where she often worked on concept vehicles and more recently, on the upcoming Neue Klasse family of cars.

Future-Proofing Design: From Materials to AI

Experimentation and a willingness to embrace failure are the cornerstones of Designworks’ philosophy. Their Santa Monica location is no coincidence. Nestled amidst the bustling entertainment, gaming, and AI communities, the studio thrives on collaboration and exposure to cutting-edge trends.

Looking ahead, Designworks is actively “scouting” for groundbreaking materials and cultural shifts. Their “future mapping” process then translates these insights into tangible solutions. During our visit, we learned about their focus on emerging technologies like mixed reality, artificial intelligence, and bio-harmonization.

Hussain Al Attar, Creative Director at BMW Designworks, shared with us a new design process that utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) to generate unique and inspiring content for designers. The traditional method of collecting inspiration from resources like Pinterest or Behance resulted in homogenous results across designers.

To overcome this, a multidisciplinary team experimented with using AI tools in unconventional ways. Existing inspirational images were processed through an API to create new variations, and then these variations were further developed by other AI tools to generate short animated clips.

This approach offers several advantages. First, designers now have access to a wider range of unique inspirational content. Second, the animated clips provide a more dynamic and engaging way to explore design ideas. Finally, the process fosters collaboration across design disciplines. By leveraging AI as a tool to enhance their creative skills and communication, designers can evolve into “brain crafters,” according to al-Attar. This experiment highlights the potential of AI to revolutionize the design process, paving the way for more innovative and inspiring creations.

The Performance Chair

Paul Ferraiolo, Director of Creative Consulting at Designworks, gave us some insight into their performance experience project focusing on future well-being through vehicle tuning. This project aims to tune the human experience within the vehicle using light, sound, and vibration to induce relaxation, inspiration, or flow states, providing a quick wellness experience during short breaks. The system integrates these elements to affect the nervous system and brain state, offering personalized experiences.

The BMW Designworks Studio in California is working on some cool things, like this one. #bmw #bmwlife #bmwclub #cartech

♬ original sound – BMWBLOG

Conceptually, it could be implemented in vehicles, providing an ideal space for such wellness experiences due to the enclosed and controlled environment, potentially enhancing the passenger experience without needing additional peripherals.

Digital Elements On The Exterior Of A Car

Next, we got a look at innovative concept of transforming the exterior of a car into a dynamic canvas, allowing for a more personalized and interactive experience between the car and its users. The idea is to move beyond traditional design methods by incorporating digital elements into the car’s exterior, such as digital faces, dynamic rim designs, and communicative beltlines.

These features aim to enhance the car’s intelligence and provide a platform for drivers to express their personality and mood, even before entering the vehicle. By leveraging both physical and digital aspects, the car can serve as a medium for personal expression and communication with the outside world, offering users a range of customization options for a unique driving experience.

Our visit to the BMW Designworks studio in Santa Monica painted a clear picture: they’re not just designing the cars of tomorrow, they’re shaping the way we’ll navigate and connect with the world around us. By embracing a holistic approach that spans various disciplines and industries, Designworks not only contributes to BMW’s legacy but also sets new standards for future mobility and design.