Christopher Weil is a passionate designer. Since 2013 he has been
Head of Exterior Design at MINI, i.e. the man responsible for shaping
the exterior of both current and future MINI models and the brand’s
concept and vision cars. As a new year gets underway, he answers ten
questions about design in general and the MINI design in particular.
He explains why good design is something you experience as well as
see, and predicts exciting things in store for the MINI brand.
1. Why did you become a car designer?
dreamt of becoming a car designer, I had a sort of inner urge. For one
thing, I’ve enjoyed drawing ever since I can remember – every scrap of
clean paper got scribbled all over! And I’m also fascinated by future
themes, basically anything and everything that’s new. Being a car
designer not only lets me fulfil my passion for creativity, it gives
me a chance to help shape the future. Exterior design has particular
appeal for me. That feeling of seeing your “own” car driving on the
road is really something special. It’s my absolute dream job.
2. Where do you get your inspiration as a car designer? What
spurs you on?
I draw my inspiration from positive
future scenarios, Utopias. The future has always been a great place
for me, a sort of improved version of now. That’s also what I think
our task as designers should be: to make the future a better place.
And that includes cars and mobility. As a designer, I’m also inspired
and captivated by products where you can see that someone has worked
long and hard on the subject matter and really got to grips with
whatever the topic is. The result is often something unique. And
that’s exactly what I aspire to achieve with my design work: the
product shouldn’t just move the MINI brand forward, it should inspire
others too. In other words, the emotion I’ve put into it should also
resonate with the user and trigger something inside them.
3. What is the function of exterior design in your view?
Good exterior design is like a promise, showing what
the vehicle is capable of – and more besides. Good exterior design
reveals the car’s character too. This can be every bit as challenging
as it is powerful. For me, good exterior design means creating an
emotional tie with the beholder solely by means of the vehicle’s form.
To achieve this, designers have to enrich the expanse of surfaces with
emotional appeal and inject a sense of motion by adding the right
lines to suit the character of the vehicle at hand. The product itself
has to communicate and strike a chord, without the customer needing to
read an explanatory brochure first.
4. Why have you chosen to work at MINI?
an automotive icon. Everyone, big or small, knows what a MINI looks
like and could probably even draw one too. More crucially, however,
MINI is much more than just a product. It is a companion through daily
life, it symbolises an open-minded outlook on the world, full of
optimism for the future. Our customers form a very special bond with
their cars. Very few other manufacturers can say the same. The task of
transporting this unique quality into the future intrigues me. And the
brand has enormous untapped potential. The current MINI LIVING and
MINI FASHION collaborations, for example, provide an indication of
what the future might hold.
5. What makes a MINI so special for you
It’s difficult to put into words. At its
essence a MINI is something very special – it’s approachable, nearly
human. Rather than the emotions that can be stirred by the workings of
a high-tech machine, a MINI is more about the relationship with the
driver. MINI conveys some of its driver’s personality, while also
having a character of its own. MINI owners identify with the product
to a far greater degree than customers of other brands. MINI is an
extraordinary experience, one I enjoy myself – when I get into my MINI
and drive off, it simply makes me happy. So you really can call it a
close relationship. MINI does all of that. And it’s something we want
to take to a whole new level in the future.
6. What is it that makes the MINI design
The MINI DNA – in other words, what Sir Alec
Issigonis sought to achieve with the classic Mini – has a special
formula. It’s about a product whose every detail is well thought out
and fulfils a purpose. The surfaces of the brand’s cars have always
had a very clean-cut, almost pared down feel. It’s “pure car” – i.e.
purity of form (rather than dispensing with non-essentials). This has
had the additional effect of creating a strong, iconic design. The
challenge lies in refining such an icon without blurring the identity
of MINI in the process. The friendly appearance of its cars is another
special MINI trait. For years now, MINI has resisted the temptation to
give its design a more aggressive tone – despite all the sporting
prowess on offer. There is, after all, no denying the go-kart
qualities, as I was able to experience first-hand on an Alpine rally I
took part in a while back. There was some strong competition from
supercars, yet the MINI still ran rings round everyone. It was a
highly impressive display, and tremendous fun too.
7. What would you say are important issues for the future?
For me, digitisation is one of the key issues. MINI is
going digital, but I imagine it will do so in a somewhat warmer, more
personal and human way than other brands of car. People will continue
to come first at MINI, not technology. Our technology will, of course,
still be state-of-the-art. And in some areas we will even lead the
way, such as with customisation using 3D printing, which will allow
MINI customers to design and fit parts themselves. But it won’t be all
about the technology, rather the experience will be king. Car design
is also set to become increasingly connected and its scope will extend
far beyond what we see now. Today, we basically still just design the
shape of a car, but in future we will be working on far more. A wealth
of possibilities are opening up, which makes the whole thing very exciting.
8. So, what role will exterior design have to play in
Exterior design will still be important. Even
if, at some point in the distant future, MINI is nothing more than a
mobile box (to exaggerate things slightly), no matter how ultra-modern
and pared down the box looks, it will still transmit the brand’s core
values. Design is essentially communication. The emotional bond that
is formed with vehicles starts with their exterior, as it’s the first
touchpoint of any car. Nurturing this relationship – indeed, ensuring
there is a relationship in the first place – is what we seek to do at
Exterior Design. It will still be our job as designers to make a MINI
instantly recognisable as a MINI.
9. What will be the identifying features of a MINI in
I think that there will continue to be design
elements that create identity and therefore make MINI as recognisable
as ever. The contrasting roof is without doubt a fundamental MINI
characteristic, as is the MINI “face” with its hexagonal radiator
grille. I see these two elements as the core visual features of MINI,
clear identity creators. Everything else is variable and offers scope
for further development. But I think there will still be a need for
iconic design elements in future.
10. You have overseen the new facelift for the MINI Hatch
(3-door and 5-door). Don’t you think it’s a bit subtle, when
compared to the previously stated vision for the future of
Model updates – or Life Cycle Impulses, as they
are also known – always involve treading a fine line between
innovating and preserving. I’m personally of the opinion that design
thrives on this contrast. The modifications and impulses of the
current model update can be found in the smaller details, and they are
both right for the car and in touch with the times. Features that were
soft before have a more contrasting effect on the updated models.
There is more definition in the MINI logo, for instance, while the
wheels and lights have likewise been given a much sharper look. The
contrast with the surrounding soft surfaces creates a far more modern
appearance. New exterior colours, rear lights with a Union Jack design
and the option of customising the side scuttles and trim strips
through MINI Yours offer our customers some very intriguing new
features, and sees us taking a big step into the future.
Christopher Weil has been Head of Exterior Design at
MINI since 2013. This means he has overall responsibility for the
entire exterior styling of both current and future MINI models, and
concept cars. Weil’s previous work for the BMW Group included
designing the exterior of both the BMW 3 Series and the BMW 328
Hommage, which was unveiled in 2011 at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa
d’Este classic car and motorcycle event.
Thank you very much!
Original Press Release