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Step into BMW Group’s innovation hub at designworks’ new shanghai studio

11 January 2024


China’s influence on emerging design trends and innovations is growing. Designworks, the enigmatic yet consistently ground-breaking subsidiary of the BMW Group, opened its expanded studio in Shanghai. In an exclusive visit, designboom stepped into the secretive studio to understand its increasing impact on the automotive manufacturer, regional clients, and global user behaviors. Timed to coincide with the West Bund Art & Design fair in November 2023, the studio’s strategic location in the creative district underlines the team’s work as the proclaimed architects of the future, not only in mobility but also across spatial and service design. step into BMW Group's innovation hub at designworks' new shanghai studio step into BMW Group's innovation hub at designworks' new shanghai studioHolger Hampf, Head of Designworks, gives designboom a tour of Designworks’ new Shanghai studio Founded in 1972 and then fully acquired as part of the BMW Group since 1995, Designworks has always strived to develop new design ideas. It is key, though, that these ideas are diverse in fields and markets. With a portfolio of 300 projects annually from all across the globe, half are designed for the BMW Group while the remainder cater for a curated set of clients. The 130+ strong creative team are strategically spread across Shanghai, Munich, and Los Angeles, with the latter having relocated to a new site earlier in 2023. The locations are interconnected but give unique perspectives on design trends in their respective regions. ‘After 50 years, the founding principles of Designworks are very much still alive today: great people, great projects, and great fun. Our diverse team work together, integrate, share knowledge, and create collaborative projects across many disciplines. This is what really makes us a different kind of agency,’ begins Holger Hampf, Head of Designworks, to designboom at the opening of the new studio in Shanghai. ‘Designworks’ three locations are a no-brainer: China in Asia, Germany in Europe, and the West coast in the US. Our products need to be successful across many different markets and customers. They are all equally important. We observe users around the world, gain different perspectives, and feed this back to the BMW Group like an outside-in approach. It is very important.step into BMW Group's innovation hub at designworks' new shanghai studio step into BMW Group's innovation hub at designworks' new shanghai studiothe agency has a 130+ strong creative team that are strategically spread across Shanghai, Munich, and Los Angeles Designworks’ team has their fingers on the pulse, particularly noted in our visit in China. The new studio’s location in the heart of China’s economic hub, nested within Shanghai’s vibrant district for arts, culture, and business, surrounds its creatives in a melting point of rapid and innovative ideas. This proximity also aligns the studio with the BMW Group’s research and development center in the city, facilitating a swift exchange of design and development expertise to improve interdisciplinary creation throughout the design process, from conception through to production. The new home – the third-generation studio in Shanghai since 2012 – underscores the team’s expanding significance and size as they tailor designs to meet specific needs of customers in China and the broader Asian region.
Users in China are young, creative, disruptive, and less patient. They want progress even faster and even more visibly. This group of customers makes China valuable as not only an incubator but also pressure for our team to innovate. This, in turn, also challenges the BMW Group. The questions asked in Shanghai are then proposed to Germany and so on,’ adds Holger. step into BMW Group's innovation hub at designworks' new shanghai studio step into BMW Group's innovation hub at designworks' new shanghai studiothe studio’s location in china’s economic hub surrounds creatives in a melting point of rapid and innovative ideas Designworks consistently questions how future customers will define premium quality, with Chinese users often at the forefront of shaping these standards. The dynamic nature of China’s market has led to evolving user behaviors, and the on-the-ground team has the ability and agility to comprehend the latest social- and design-related phenomena. This includes understanding people’s changing needs in terms of aesthetics, lifestyle, and technology at an accelerated pace, offering valuable insights into the country’s cultures and traditions. These insights are then translated into product ideas for both the local region and global stage.
There is a regular exchange between all our studios, through virtual tools. What we learn in one location can have a positive impact on a completely different project on the other side of the globe.‘ Holger continues to clarify, ‘it is a more useful experience to work, interaction, and share knowledge in-person. We have projects that utilize our personnel across different studios, such as when needing a US or Chinese perspective.step into BMW Group's innovation hub at designworks' new shanghai studio step into BMW Group's innovation hub at designworks' new shanghai studiosustainable materials are developed with an artistic approach, like Zhangrong Velvet, Song Brocade, and Lacquer ‘When we talk about cars and their interiors, we want to create a wow-factor. It is then important to create meaning. Using sustainable materials, there are benefits to the user and planet without any negatives,’ explains the Head of Designworks.
A prime example of this localized innovation is evident in the design of the new BMW 5 Series, significantly influenced by the Designworks team in Shanghai. The vehicle boasts a long wheelbase, unique proportions, and a more spacious rear compartment, tailored specifically for Chinese customers. Exclusive design elements add more luxury. This approach is expected to extend to future models of the BMW Neue Klasse. step into BMW Group's innovation hub at designworks' new shanghai studio step into BMW Group's innovation hub at designworks' new shanghai studiothe studio influenced the design of the new BMW 5 series with a China-specific long wheelbase version Traditional Chinese craftsmanship is being reinterpreted as visionary, sustainable materials that maintain high quality. These materials include Zhangrong Velvet, Song Brocade, and Lacquer, creating a synthesis of highly optical and haptic experiences for users. This commitment to cultural sensitivity is also reflected globally in the BMW Group’s digital experience, featuring the visualization of BMW IPA (intelligent personal assistant), the MINI digital companion SPIKE, and special festival mode animations on control displays.
There is a false perception that China is not sustainable,‘ notes Holger Hampf, Head of Designworks. ‘The size of their cities present an even bigger challenge than elsewhere. Their market not only needs to be faster in developing alternative concepts of mobility, architecture and more, but at the same time, add more value to the customer. This takes on a more artistic application. It is important for individuals to have an emotional connection to their products, and so, our designers are trying to create this through sustainable materials, for example.step into BMW Group's innovation hub at designworks' new shanghai studiothe team designed the Skyworth BM Home Appliances Series, including an OLED TV, refrigerator, washing machine and more Despite half of Designworks’ projects being exclusively related to the BMW Group and its brands, the other 50% are commissioned in parallel for a large, diverse number of global clients. This deliberate curation provides a distinctive outside-in perspective, fostering an exchange of knowledge and understanding of new trends that enrich BMW Group design. Collaborative ventures range from designing the exterior and interior of the new generation of high-speed trains for CRRC – the world’s largest rolling stock manufacturer – to shaping the positioning and product design for Chinese e-bike manufacturer Yadea. In a different sphere, the studio also crafted the end-to-end customer experience for Fotile, a luxury kitchen manufacturer specializing in smart-home household appliances.
As architects of the future, it is apt that Designworks’ influence extends beyond automotive design, shaping spatial and service innovations around the globe. This, as seen on designboom’s visit to the opening, is a testament to the new, expanded studio in the heart of Shanghai’s creative pulse.