#BMWSPEED: How Innovative Car Designer Adrian van Hooydonk Is Designing Speed Itself

In light of BMW's Concept 8 Series, SLEEK talks to Adrian van Hooydonk, the Senior Vice President of BMW Group Design, about working with the notion of speed.

BMW 8 Series concept. Image: BMW.

This year, BMW released the BMW Concept 8 Series, which combines peerless design with breathtaking speeds for an unparalleled driving experience. This unabashedly modern and athletic model is slated for a 2018 release. To celebrate, SLEEK will be profiling a series of innovative designers and artists who work with the idea of speed. For the final piece, we’re interviewing Adrian van Hooydonk – the Senior VP of BMW Group Design. 

Having been with the BMW Group for two and a half decades, Adrian van Hooydonk has played a role in literally shaping acceleration itself. As the Senior VP of BMW Group Design, he’s responsible for the look and feel of every single thing that BMW Group Design does – and he’s played a special role in rebooting the 8 Series. It’s a car that embodies the 21st century creed that the truest luxury today is speed. This idea is embodied within the car at all levels, from the brazen engine to the pointing of all lines within the car and without to a single vanishing point. It’s an object that literally believes that the best is yet to come, and has the power to get us there fast. We spoke to van Hooydonk over the phone about his work on the BMW Concept 8 Series, and how he visualises speed.

Adrian van Hooydonk.

How do you visualize the concept of speed?

In all of our designs, we try to convey a sense of movement — even when they are parked. When our customers see the car, we want to daydream about what it would be like it to drive it. 

We also take care of proportions. In a BMW, you have a very long wheel base, and strong overhangs with a dynamic wheel-to-body relationship. From the side view, we are careful to incorporate some wedge, making it lower at the front end than at the back. Engine suspension, head clearance, trunk space: we consider each of these things when fulfilling our design requirements. These are the things that go above and beyond the sum total of function. These are the basic things that all of our designers know, and they embed this thinking into all of our cars.

With the BMW Concept 8 Series, we’ve focused on speed even more. This goes from getting light and shadow in all the right places, to conveying tension through the lines of the car.

What is your conceptual approach to design, and what continues to inspire you?

I learnt car design on the job. I’ve been with BMW for more than 25 years; during that time, I studied our heritage intensely, and the way that we express speed has changed over time. We have always tried to express lightness, nimbleness and a certain dynamic. To some extent, we have always used the same trick, if you will, though now we can use different materials, and can use sculpture in ways that are a lot freer than we could before.

I am an industrial designer, but with a strong interest in architecture – especially what makes a structure look balanced and dynamic. Some artists work with the concept of dynamics through sculpture, but a car is a special thing – it’s something that moves under its own power. In that sense, it’s close to living organism. That’s always been the inspiration. From graphics and design, you can learn what creates solidity or movement, but that’s only theoretical. It doesn’t explain why a BMW looks the way it does.

The original 8 Series is iconic. But how did you approach the 2017 iteration of this icon? Why has speed remained such a potent idea for drivers?

What I always liked about the car is that it has a certain exoticness, a certain uniqueness. It’s not a coupe or sedan. So we wanted to make the new BMW Concept 8 Series exotic. Of course, when we modernised it, we didn’t just want to do a sleeker version of the old car – we wanted to do an all-new design. It should express speed and luxury. That started with the roofline – which we made very sleek, and very fast. The whole rear window tapers towards the bottom, which gives some sense of acceleration. It was important that we did what we did with very few lines, which is the next step in the BMW formal language. The lines are fewer and sharper, and the vehicles have stronger identity of their own, with less family resemblance. The 8 Series stands out as an exotic and very luxurious sports car, with a very low front end, and a lot of “shark nose” as we call it, with a grill that leans forward.

Does a modern driver consider the idea of speed differently today? If so, why, and how?

If I look at life and how I experience it, it is speeding up. We have less time to do the things we have to do, let alone the things we want to do! So that means that, as a designer, I have to bring story across very quickly — it has to take half a minute, not half an hour. I believe that our new design language works within this context — it’s simple, but stronger. 

As the world gets more hectic, our customers see the car as a space of retreat. Even while speeding along the highway, driving is “me-time”, and an intensely personal experience, tailored to our individual needs. Thus, we want to express movement and simplicity. Thus the interior for the BMW Concept 8 Series is less cluttered, with fewer panels and buttons. It’s also more intelligent — you have to give less input. This gives our customers time to enjoy the driving experience. The car is safe haven in which we can enjoy this hectic world.

From data connections to computer power to marathon times to train transport, we are living in an age of rapid acceleration. What challenges does this open up as a designer?

The car is a very complicated technical object, but our job is to simplify this. Because the world can feel chaotic, the important thing is to design a driving experience where the customer feels in complete control. Our drivers like driving. It’s relaxing for them. New and emerging automotive technologies mean, parodoxically, as the designs become more complex, the user experience becomes more simple and relaxing. I’m optimistic as you can tell, but as designers, it’s our job to make the world a better place, with what little we do.

For more information on the BMW Concept 8 Series, watch BMW.com 

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