At the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show, I had the great opportunity to have an interview with young BMW designer Calvin Luk who is hugely responsible for the successful 1-Series facelift as well as the second generation X1 which debut at the show. Born and raised in the land Down Under, the Australian designer is a graduate of the famous Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Enough of biography, read on for my interview with Calvin!
How did you become a car designer?
Well I was always interested in cars, especially sketching and drawing. So from a young age I’ve always sketched cars. Specifically when my parents bought a 3-series when I was 10-years old, and then I kept drawing this car among others. But that started my fascination with BMW, wanting to be involved and design for them.
So which BMW cars are you currently responsible for?
The 1-Series facelift which was launched earlier this year, and the new X1 which we are premiering today (at the Frankfurt Motor Show).
How different was the design process between the pre-facelift 1-Series and the previous-gen X1 compared to their latest counterparts?
I guess the premise is different. On one hand you have an established vehicle already which you are upgrading and on the other it’s a blank sheet of paper and you start from the beginning. So there are many more variables, and there’s many more that can happen and you could take it many different ways.
Where do you see the future of BMW design in your opinion?
In the future I think we will be seeing a lot of future drivetrains technologies which is a hot topic right now. And of course we have lots of plug-in hybrids on our stand today. Also, an increased emotional connection to the customer in the future as well.
At BMW, do the designers work alongside the engineers or separate?
We work very tightly with our engineering team. We have specialists in every single area of the car you can imagine. And obviously everything we design needs to go through an engineering process to make it to the road.
Have you worked for any other car companies previously?
BMW is my first since graduation. I’ve been here since seven years now.
At this year’s Frankfurt show, what design trends are you seeing that are getting more and more popular among car companies?
I think the biggest topic that I noticed is what does “electric” mean for the industry. I didn’t notice anything else in particular, but SUVs are still a big topic so it makes sense to launch our new X1 here.
Is it true that there are no restrictions for a designer when designing a car for the virtual world (video games)?
That is true and depends on how you want to approach the project. I think BMW wants to build a lot of realism into their vehicles so it’s not pure fantasy. So obviously not having to go through legislation, doesn’t have to be approved for crash tests and all this sort of thing, you are free to do anything you want in a video game.
How does a BMW designer differentiate a standard model from something like a full M performance model?
We have a strategy and typically on the M cars we like to make it a lot more powerful and in terms of the amount of air it brings into the engine. So you will notice bolder air intakes and more aggressive characteristics. And they typically comes with different suspension, so the stance is a little bit lower, a bit more body-colored elements, and a more aggressive treatment on the rocker panels, rear diffuser etc.
What about the “i” cars? (i3 and i8)
Yea I think if you take the “i” brand, it’s definitely designed to make a clear statement for sustainability and the future mobility of our automotive world. On the other side we still have BMW which is very authentic to our brand values: very luxurious, very high quality, and premium.
Would you say that the BMW design language is more on the conservative side?
We are very authentic to our brand, so we have our key values which are like the “stretched” look and this gives us some of this elegance which you can see in the new 7-Series. There are a lot of sculptured, precise lines which we have to keep, and continue to develop of course. With every new generation we add a little bit more, but we want to respect the brand, and respect our customers.
What should BMW fans expect in the future of BMW cars?
More cool cars!
What do you want to say to all aspiring car designers out there?
Car designing can be very challenging. Definitely go to design school, one which has a transportation/car design program. Sketch a lot of cars. Sketch anything you like but try to be creative with it and what could you imagine possible. You have to be creative and able to communicate your designs clearly in a 2D or 3D manner.
It was great speaking with Calvin who definitely is very passionate about his job. The sketch he kindly did for us of the BMW X1 was made even more impressive as it was done with a ball pen within a few minutes. We very much looking forward to more great-looking BMW products from designers like Calvin Luk!