OLiver Heilmer, Head of MINI Design. Foto: BMW Group

Inspiration is never a coincidence: An interview with Oliver Heilmer, Head of MINI Design

In the current eMove360° magazine in german language (download PDF), Oliver Heilmer, Head of MINI Design, talks in an interview about the challenge of developing a new MINI design language, the character of the new electric MINI Aceman, how sustainably produced materials influence the design process, and where he draws inspiration for new MINI models.

Mr. Heilmer, when you joined MINI in 2017 – how did you develop a vision to lead the models into the future?

Oliver Heilmer: Given that MINI is a very traditional brand, the question was: how do you transform a brand like this into the future? To answer this, we had to go back to the time when the classic Mini was created in order to understand the spirit of Sir Alec Issigonis and derive from this where the MINI brand is heading in today’s context. In the next step, we approached this essence of the original Mini together with our very diverse team and formulated our own creative mindset. And building on this, we developed an overall brand design vision that serves as a guard rail for the design of the new products.

What was your biggest challenge in developing a completely new design language?

Heilmer: The biggest challenge was and still is the continuous examination of the brand’s strong history. The first MINI was an absolute disruption – that is also part of the story. Now you could say that MINI is disruption and we forget everything that happened before it. But then we lose the heart of the brand. Instead, we are now talking about independent characters – and the MINI Cooper was immediately the icon for us. We are approaching the original idea of the original: strong character, but with as few means as possible – “Charismatic Simplicity” expresses this.

What does the new MINI design language “Charismatic Simplicity” stand for and how is this reflected in the new MINI Aceman?

Heilmer: It’s about strong characters and about each member of the MINI family taking their own individual position. If you look at the side, for example, the MINI Aceman has a very unique design language and a unique graphic for the wheel arch trims. It is compact, looks agile and has a certain forward thrust. That is what gives it its character, its charisma. At the same time, we have dispensed with superfluous stylistic elements. The exercise was to describe its own character with as few means as possible.

How would you describe the character of the MINI Aceman?

Heilmer: The MINI Aceman is both a practical and an expressive and unique buddy in everyday life. It goes out into the world fresh and carefree and takes its place in the middle of the MINI family. An independent character that can be quite ‘edgy’ and appeals to customers who – regardless of their age – value individuality and personality in the urban space.

The MINI Aceman is the first of its kind. Why is the MINI Aceman exactly the right vehicle for the urban environment?

The MINI Aceman fits perfectly into the urban environment as it reinterprets the classic values of MINI in a modern, all-electric crossover format. It offers a raised seating position that gives a safe feeling and a generous amount of space without losing the compactness and maneuverability that are characteristic of MINI.

What gives you fresh inspiration for the development of new MINI models?

Heilmer: Inspiration is never a coincidence, but arises from a regular, targeted exchange within our team, in which each member shares inspiring and fascinating experiences: One builds skateboards, for example, while the other lived on a sailing boat for two years. I would make a rough distinction between direct and indirect inspiration. It’s all part of indirect inspiration, which gives wings to this spirit that is recognizable in the materials as well as in the surfaces and in the digital. Direct inspiration can be found in architecture or fashion, for example. However, the creative discourse within the team is crucial.

How do new, sustainably produced materials influence the design process at MINI?

Heilmer: Our brand design vision is based on our “Creative Mindset”, which comprises four guiding values: Heartbeat, Curiosity, Responsibility and Daredevil. These values stand for our basic principles such as heritage, curiosity for new things, sustainability and the courage to stand out. Sustainability and the responsible use of resources do not mean sacrifice for us, but rather that we explore new possibilities in our creative process. Instead of materials such as leather, we use alternative technologies that allow more design freedom and individualization through the use of patterns or two-tone colours, for example. The 3D knit, for example, is one of the central design elements inspired by the sneaker industry. We are also replacing chrome with our new Vibrant Silver color for aesthetic reasons, among others.

Which design innovation of the MINI Aceman are you particularly proud of?

Heilmer: Two things in particular, and they both relate to size: the MINI Aceman is extremely compact because the overhangs at the front and rear are very short. Despite this, the vehicle is extremely safe. This is due to truly outstanding engineering work. But it’s not just the things you can see that are special. I would also like to emphasize how the feeling of space is handled throughout the interior, so that maximum lightness is achieved.

Are there any hidden design gimmicks that are only recognizable on closer inspection?

Heilmer: The idea behind the little Easter eggs that we have hidden is the fact that people want to be surprised. Not always at the first moment, but also after a certain amount of time. Digital innovation allows for such playfulness that you can, for example, display the navigation arrow as a small MINI or a large spinning record on the central instrument. And that’s how Spike was born, an animal friend who has always been a loyal companion of the brand. And this gave rise to the idea of offering a kind of digital companion. That’s how Spike got into the MINI and now lives in the display, so to speak.

In which direction do you want to develop MINI design in the future?

Heilmer: We in the team are of the opinion that the “creative mindset” will remain a guideline for us with the same relevance for future products. At the same time, we will focus even more strongly on the value of responsibility. Curiosity and responsibility – we are currently taking these values into the thought processes of the next generation.

If there was a product outside of the automobile that you could design – what would it be?

Heilmer: I could imagine many things, but if I had to choose, I would say a sailing boat. I’ve been sailing maybe five times in my life, but I still have a fascination for the water and dealing with the forces that prevail there. For my diploma thesis, I designed a trimaran together with a fellow student with the question of whether you can design “automotive” in an area of mobility that doesn’t necessarily have to take place on the road – I think there is still a lot of potential there.

04.07.2024   |  

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