What is retro design, how has it been used and what will its future be conceptually and contextually? After speaking to Roberto Giolito, Head of Design of the Fiat Group, I asked Anders Warming, Chief Design of MINI.
Warming starts with a clear statement; “Retro is not an issue for me as a designer, not a topic. Retrospective, backwards thinking is not correct” New ideas, venturing into the future is what he aims for, influenced by DNA, bloodlines; “We relate to tradition, to where we come from.”
For Warming the understanding of heritage indicates the knowledge of the past, allowing a designer to look forwards. Warming knows his cars. He emphasises that understanding the history of cars and car design from the early ‘30’s onwards is a backdoor of knowledge each car designer should have. But looking for new, better, more intelligent solutions is also a matter of understanding and using heritage; at MINI as it was Sir Alex Issigonis, whilst designing the iconic original, who was searching for a better solution, for innovation. Warming claims the MINI DNA will remain searching for better solutions. Retro is the wrong way of doing so, as it is replicating lines someone else invented.
According to Warming “Designing MINI is the perfect balance between heritage and innovation.” He explains there is 50% heritage and 50% innovation in every new MINI and that the key features are based on typical MINI proportions. According to Anders the MINI is still the smallest car in the segment, despite the fact they grew bigger over the years: a MINI should not be compared to a Smart ForTwo, IQ or Aygo, they operate above the small car segment. Warming: “The nearest competitor, the premium small car Audi A1, is 10cm bigger. So despite MINI’s growth, it follows the promise of Issigonis.”
On the newest generation MINI the innovation is in being connected. The new user interface in the interior defines the architecture and connects to the heritage with the round display. It has more content compared to the previous car, having the latest tech inside. Big steps have been made on material quality, ergonomics, pedestrian protection and aerodynamics, all with a cleaver use of space. The main architecture is simplified with all driving functions now on the steering column, the navigation interface in centre in dashboard with other shared controls. BMWi’s knowledge has fed into the design process as well; a higher level of recycled – and lightweight materials have been used. These are the only connections between BMWi and MINI though.
Anders wanted to introduce a new from language for this generation, a “radical change”. It features sharper lines around the taillights, bonnet and doors. He explains: “The task of good car design is not to knock you over in the first second. It has to hold value over time. The more you look at it, the more you appreciate the time and depth that went into it. It’s getting better overtime. Good design represents a long lasting value, from language, to usability, to quality.”
Although the new MINI does have a strong and recognisable character, the fact the design has a rather large frontal overhang makes it look less attractive in its proportions than the outgoing model. In the sketches and in some of the press photos the brand has managed to hide this large overhang, but it is not doing the car any favours in real life. With its more pronounced hips, planted look and facets around taillights, fenders and other graphics the feeling of strength and solid volumes is surely there and they give the new MINI indeed a new character. The big overhang combined with its rather flat laying headlights, and at the Cooper models with their unsatisfying lower bumper sections, it’s hard to speak of a real overall improvement, nor innovation or an interesting new take on a strong heritage.
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