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Mr. Chris Bangle

Chris Bangle, is an American automobile designer and currently the chief of design for the BMW Group. Dutch born Adrian van Hooydonk recently took over the position of head of the BMW brand and is currently the main designer of BMW cars.

Wikipedia on Chris: Bangle was born on October 14 1956 in Ravenna, Ohio, raised in Wisconsin, and attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He began his career at Opel where he designed the interior of the Junior concept car. He later moved to Fiat where he became chief designer and was credited with the design of the Fiat Coupé.

When he joined BMW in 1992, he became their first American chief of design. The 1999 Z9 concept car designed by Adrian van Hooydonk marked a departure from BMW’s traditional conservative style, and his latter work has caused some controversy among BMW enthusiasts.

Chris is known for evoking strong reactions. There is even an online petition that tried to stop him from “ruining”? the BMW brand. Nevertheless, BMW sales have never went down and have been increasing steadily. Therefore, it seems there are haters but also (many) lovers of his (and Adrian’s) designs.

Some of the questions seemed to evoke strong emotions with Mr. Bangle. Nevertheless, they are authentic and therefore placed as they were.

In the end, I think it has become an interesting short interview with a very influential design expert and I hope you will all enjoy to read it.

Chris, you are often described as a controversial designer and while I was browsing the web I found about 50% praise and 50% hate. What do you think makes your designs evoke such strong reactions? Is it because of the BMW brand’s long history (the haters are nostalgias enthusiasts) or are the designs really that experimental and provocative?

Passion breeds passion…that is surely the case here . BMW, MINI, Rolls-Royce, these are all marques with great emotional content. This is good!!! No one would want it any other way. But this does not guarantee that a real dialogue takes place, and the internet is a particularly skewed medium to try and take straw polls from. As a journalist you too know these dangers…would any organization rely on uncontrolled ballot stuffing to discern the true representative opinion of a constituency? In the final analysis our customers vote with their pocketbooks, and, for example in the case of the often discussed BMW 7 Series, it is the best selling 7 of all time. Of course there are thousand of other factors at work, but we are not interested in provocation here, we are dedicated to giving our customers and our shareholders the best products possible, period.

BMW 7 Series

When we talk about designing for emotion, it usually concerns a methodological approach to integrate the emotional impact of design in the design process and try to take this impact into account beforehand. Do you recognize any designing for emotion strategy in the design process at BMW?

That Form Follows Function and also Follows Process should come as no surprise. In the same way an impassionate process can only lead to cold and impassionate results, so our “Emotional Strategy” for product begins with a highly emotional process of creation. We run our designers in competition within their own group and with outside designers, and use resources such as Designworks USA to add a global perspective. Decisions are made at Board level outside and viewing full sized models, everything is discussed, refined, presented, and refined again. And again.

What is false I believe is to try and “strategize emotion”…without understanding of spontaneity, context, or serendipity. What is equally false is to try and design without a orientation, without a framework; randomly. Design needs clear borders to push against, only in that way can it be strengthened. And sometimes you wind up moving some borders…that too must be allowed.

Cars are always a great example for comparing the relationships we have with products and brands to the relationship we have with real people. You have stated once that cars are just like people: Some you want to get close to and discover more over time, and with some you just prefer to keep it superficial.
I have always found these types of comparisons a bit vague. Is there a way to explain why it is more likely that we will feel more intimate with a Z4 than with an Opel Astra? Isn’t this just because we look better in it (for the neighbours) or is there more to it?

If you think that is vague, I can only say, welcome to the world of Design Meets Semantics. Pictures (our business) say a thousand words (your business), so don’t be surprised if the 1000:1 efficiency we have over you leaves your word count short. Explanations are great time fillers between experiences, but I doubt embraced in a passionate kiss or terrified on a rollercoaster has much attention left over to dedicate to the narrative in the background. But if you must fill YOUR word count, I would suggest first reading Sir Kenneth Clark’s The Nude and substituting the term “Car” for “Nude”…in about 5 chapters you will know all about Z4s and how they break away from the world of the everyday.

You have said that the Z4 marked a turning point in car design, away from pure rationalism into rationalism-based emotionalism. Could you explain what this means and why especially the Z4 initiated this turn?

To be fair perhaps it was our Concept Car, the X Coupe, from 2001, that really was the turning point. One way to consider the change it heralded is to look at a detail like the door openers inside the car…sounds pretty insignificant, don’t you think? But until this car came along forms, particularly technical forms like handles, were created following formal rules and vocabularies from the Great Age of Modernism…in short, within the limits of the geometries of the Twenties. That is why you used to see so much knurled aluminium, because the lathe was one of the Machine Age standards back then used to break away from the naturalistic shapes of Art Neveu and other humanistic styles that came before. But we live in the Digital age, which means that 5-Axis milling is more representative of our times than a lathe. Look at the shapes of the X Coupe, starting with the door openers and going out all the way to the exterior (asymmetry and all) of the exterior…do you see the free flow of surface pulled into tension over the spline ridges? This is definitely only possible by profiting from what “5-Axis Freedom of Expression”? can bring to your mind, even better if the forms were worked (as in the case of the body) by the hands of men. In fact, that is the way it flowed, from the hands of our modellers into the computer generated surfaces and then back in wonderfully intensifying loops. Computer Surfaces have their place, but the Formal Vocabularies we are talking about here have nothing to do with the computer. The Greeks could have carved them. But with the computer we have a fantastic enabler in our hands that has lain dormant due to the conservative pressure of Modernist Geometries on our imaginations. In this sense, as usual, the architects were way ahead of us.

XCoupe versus Z4
But back to the cars. The Z4 was the precursor to all this, but because of the rythm of Show Cars to Production Cars the X Coupe was seen first. Look at the crossing of splines through the car, implying a sub structure at work, a skeleton on the move pulling the skin into tension. Notice the diagonal of the extended A Pillar with a shockingly geometric side marker smack in the middle holding the emblem; a gesture in metal that evokes all of the concentrated energy of the grill air-outled without the questionableness of a plugged hole and chromed ribs. Graphic by Formal Intonation…very new. The sensuous flow of the shoulders and hips of the classic roadster and the perfect proportions of true roadsters is all there to be seen in the Z4, but with a modern flair that is really unmatched.

I have read that you compared some of the lines in your designs of the later BMW series with the lines in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Do you often look into other design areas to get inspiration for a new car design?

Understanding comes through such inspirations and observations, and that in turn builds puzzle pieces for later intuitive insights. NOTHING IS UNINTERESTING, NOTHING IS UNIMPORTANT. What was that that Arthur Miller says in Death of a Salesman? “Attention must be paid”? Yes, I take a lot of notes on the world, there WILL be a test afterwards, I am sure.

i-driveI have received some questions by readers of this website. The most interesting one was by Frank Spillers about i-drive. BMW lost brand recognition from i-drive, a computer-like system, which is used to control most secondary vehicle systems – people didn’t seem to accept it. Usability guru Don Norman even criticized it. Jakob Nielsen said his wife didn’t like it and won’t buy another BMW again. How has BMW recovered from the i-drive and the decision to go with design choices based on sensory overload (tactile-kinaesthetic) vs. a multi-modal interface?

Our customers cover a wide spectrum of experience and expectations, but usually they rely on BMW engineers to “do the right thing”. The fact that all premium manufacturers have some sort of I-Drive probably shows we were on the right track, just ahead of the game. I wouldn’t want a car without it and neither would my wife (I asked), so is this a question about scorecards or about what is the proper way to multitask on the current and future driving environment? Criticism is welcome and feedback is useful, and I guarantee you it will be developed and improved and evolved until it really is near perfect…(how many Amendments does the US Constitution have now, or would you dismiss that innovative document as an incorrect concept?)

Thanks Chris, for your time and the opportunity to have this interview.

Want to read more? Have a look at AskMen.com – Chris Bangle 

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Discussion (40) Comment

  1. Luciano BoveVisitor

    Hi, I am a car design manager that has the privilege to know Mr. Bangle. To fully understand his philosophy of life, that influences his activities like designing and directing car design, anyone should have the pleasure to be with him and the all picture of “understanding” would be a lot more clear. All I can say is that his: passion, faith, vision of life, culture, energy,make of him one of the very fews incredible motivating Design directors on planet with an extremely positive effects on designers and their work production. He is the man that brings out of you what you do not know yet to have, and let me tell you that you can count on a hand the number of men with this ability. Once he told me:” Luciano I have to make the best out of each one of you!..” At that time no way to pay for new fresh talented designers..and he made it so true , today he is N°1 in BMW Group. So, as he admits, 50% pro and 50% neg..it is about passion and emotions!Bravo.

  2. miloVisitor

    I think, Mr. Bangle killed the BMW design.

  3. Hans WissnerVisitor

    Yes, Milo, he may have and thank god for that. I am as enamoured as the next person with the BMW design legacy but times change and design changes with it. As an Industrial Designer and the nephew of several Mercedes Benz Engineers, I have always been cogniscent of the the rivalry between the two marques. BMW has been able to push the boundaries without falling over the edge. I just wish that Benz had been as successful. The BMW art cars are a great example of that concept. The M1 was certainly not the standard BMW form and what was with the Warhol thing?! But it worked and led to some great design dialogue. Cheers, Chris!

  4. Giovanni MontoyaVisitor

    Evolution is necessary.

    Recently I met to Mr. Paul Gehry and he was discussing the fact that in all human areas is necessary to make changes and evolutionize our sense and all our expressions.
    I am a great admiror of Mr. Chris Bangle. I tried to be enrolled at Pasadena Art Center, and was becuase I saw Mr. Bangle his passion for design.
    What he was doing with BMW is such a evolution, that can be translated into new shapes and fusntions in design.
    If all of us becuase i consider a BMW fan the forms 20 years ago were different to these new forms. That only means evolution.
    If we gaze the italian design is happening the same thing, but Mr. Bangle wnet beyond and he by himself turned on BMW in a fresh and juvenile view of ths great brand.

    I admire Mr. Bangle, like many other designers, artists and scientists who has been bold and have caused severe changes in the human history that allow us to evolutionize and be prepared for any changes.

    Mr. Chris Bangle the kind of designers that most companies need nowadays.

  5. Tom WellingsVisitor

    Brand guardians are politicians, therefore they are never wrong.
    It is unlikely that in the future Bangle will be mentioned in the same sentence as Sir William Lyons, Alec Issigonis, Giorgetto Giugiaro, or even Patrick le Quement.

  6. Danilo KalilVisitor

    The Chris Bangle’s work is innovative and revolutionary. Your design style influenced many professionals of car and product design, like me.

  7. BMWsHidden GODVisitor

    ALL the designs from 1994 to present day regarding X5 Z3 Z4 Z8 1Series MINI M6 Phantom Have only one Designer !!! ME…FACT Ask the thieves who stole my designs how “I” created the swing of design excellence. Chris, Adrian, Frank, Henrik, Anders, Chuck……Chuck?

  8. John WaddellVisitor

    Chris Bangle is a great salesman and self promoter. History will have the final say concerning his creations. Will be the Bangle era designs age gracefully ? Not sure. But it is very interesting how the new 335 E92 Coupe is pulling away from Mr.Bangle’s initial interpretation of design. Just sayin’

  9. Carol Linda RussellVisitor


  10. massimilianoVisitor

    Salve mi chiamo massimiliano volevo fare i complimenti a chris bangle,perchè con queste auto fa sognare anche se non si possono avere! ma fa lo stesso i sogni rimangono i piu belli e spero che non smetterà di farmi sognare grazie di tanta bellezza.

  11. Francesco GulinoVisitor

    Salve, sono un neolaureato in ingengeria meccatronica appassionato di car design. volevo sottoporre alcuni miei modelli di automobili al giudizio del centro stile BMW, qualcuno saprebbe consigliarmi come fare? Grazie

  12. Sheldon PayneVisitor

    Instead of trying to figure out what’s next, Mr Bangle & Co have created what’s next for BMW. The admission that it’s not perfect and will be refined, evolved, is both humble and appropriately assertive. Cheers,

  13. Wael El AshryVisitor

    True times change and sooner or later the core design features distinct to BMWs will change. BUT, in my opinion, Chris took it too far too soon, the quantum design leap of the new 7 series took everybody by surprise. BMW says sales of the 7 series have not gone down but I wonder how much of those sales are actually driven by the design and not the other engineering pillars BMW stands on like technology, engines and ride pleasure. With many auto manufacturers copying chris’s designs (Something that could not have happend before because it would have been too blatant and will draw criticism), BMW loses its design uniqueness and edge it had in 80’s and 90’s. Only then sales may drop, I guess time will tell. From where I stand, I will not be buying any new BMWs for some time and will stick to current my E46.

  14. AlexVisitor

    One of the pillars of BMW’s greatness is the design of their cars, and one amazing thing is that with every new evolution of the models they achieved to innovate and modernize shapes an style without losing the core essence that really defines the brand (Look for example the change from E36 to E46) … Until Mr Bangle came.
    This guy is an excellent designer (who denies it) but he’s not for BMW. His aim was to revitalize the BMW desing, give new strength to the BMW essence, but instead of that he just changed that essence for one of his own.
    Maybe a blond longhaired Superman would seem cuter but he wouldn’t be the true Superman anymore, right?

  15. Raghuraj AnanthojVisitor

    BMW started on with manufacture of Luftwaffe as we all know. The double kidney still remianed for all these decades, the design and styling is being iteriated from many corners of the BMW design house, evolved, studied the emotions and other aspects of design to the current trends, this change is required not in just automobile but everywhere take for instance fashion, things evolve with the time, so did BMW with Chris Bangle heading it. There is nothing wrong with the changes in the design trend of BMW, this evoution was required and someone has to do it some or the other day, utlimately it was done.Well done Chris….

  16. Ndabe KweyamaVisitor

    Chris Bangle’s designs have taken me to a whoel new level of feeling, looking and most of all thinking. They are emotive, forward thinking and lasting. The Z4 is a timeless piece of design history, it is one of the most perfect pieces of beauty ive ever come across. The man’s work is moving, his designs unveil whole new plane of thought. I’ve had quiet conversations with the BMW Z4 and its taught me much.

  17. King ArthurVisitor

    I like several aspects of his design. The ‘Bangle-Butt’ notwithstanding. And don’t mention the Z4, it should be considered an abomination. It does not hold up to the Z3, certainly not the Z8. Ask me, they should bring back the E30, but with a small V-12.

  18. Ndabe KweyamaVisitor

    Too be honest when the Z4 first rolled out i was completely appalled by it if you can believe that considering my previous post. It took me about 3 months to ‘get it’. The Z3 was beautiful at launch (remember the Golden Eye theatrical tie in?) and still holds its own today, however it began too look dated quickly. The design evolution to the current Z4 is bold and refreshing. You really are buying something completely new and not just ‘next years roadster’ (what a lot of manufacturers like to do.)Z4 is a much more relevant, emotive and gregarious vehicle compared to its peers. Speaking of the E-40, one design feature i loved about it was its slighty tilted central control panel. (remember that?)

  19. SAMVisitor

    I am a huge BMW fan for more than 15 years. Before Mr. Bangle, people asked me what makes BMW so special?.. Most people (regular folks) do not know the most famous attributes of the brand(sports driving, powerful engines, superior handling) they only see cars from a “superfial” point of view. Desing is the only vehicule a car have to comunicate a message to most people (that´s before they tried, or read a review, etc). Since the BMW 7 Series (E65-2002) people do not ask what’s so special about the BMW .. They see it and now understand .. I am a fan not only of BMW cars, I am also a fan of the company. BMW current sucess makes me very happy. I am very grateful for the enormous contribution made by Mr. Bangle to the brand i love. (Sorry for my terrible ingles! Translated from Spanish into English with google translate 😉

  20. Martin SandemanVisitor

    I always loved BMW cars for their attractive design, excellent build quality and intelligent use of technology. Now I find I am left with only the latter two [i-drive excepted]. I don’t admire ‘Bangles Bungles’ but as the saying goes ‘tempora mutanto et nos mutamur in illis. I will probably continue to oscillate between BMW and Merc to ensure I get the best deal – which also includes what I predict will be the trade-in value. Bangle is right – I buy with my wallet, he thinks I buy with my emotions and that’s a mistake for a businessman!

  21. AlexVisitor

    E46 3 series is just more beautiful and elegant than E90 wich has too many round forms, and the new insides are pityful compared to the previous.

  22. andre bianchiVisitor

    Sorry Chris,

    BMW deserves better more attractive designs for its models.
    Technologically and in terms of refinement, BMW is spearheading its way through its competitors but design wise BMW are scaring off traditional customers and their cars have become associated with NOVEAU RICH upstarts with no taste who are buying the car for simply its badge and supposed image.

    I for one, love BMW engines but I do not want to have to explain that I am not quite like that..i.e. the average pea brain neuvea rich crack pot who has not yet realized that the world is laughing at him !

  23. Mahomed ZaheerVisitor

    Hi Chris,

    I like your work. The design and styling is unique. You have captured the essence of BMW in your design. The charicteristics of the pervious BMWs are in your design. They look good. Keep it up! Well done.

  24. Ventzi IvanovVisitor

    To say hi Chris would be an understatement… I would like to thank you for all the wonderfull things you brought to us BMW customers before we even imagined them. I was dazzled and screemed with joy for when looking at the E65 it brought warm feeling from my childhood by bringing back the memory of the Russian build Volga. I would like to thank you also for inspiring all these poor asian chaps for taking their design looks one level up. I am trully amazed by the Sonata (even considering buying it) and the Sorento, they really follow your pation and emotions on much larger scale than the E60. You really brought life to the Korean car industry for which we are greatfull. As the classic said “Lead the way”.. all of us helpless BMW admirers will follow you thanks to emotional words like DOUBLE VANOS and inspiring content like SMG or worship of NATURAL ASPIRATION. So you see Chris we all follow, even into the unknown depths of senceless word wrapping acrobatics trying to raise on piadestal the vision emptyness. We will always follow. Signed ODO (One Design Optimist)

  25. RaviVisitor

    Only market decides what is good in the short-term as well as in the long-term. However, as long as one does not violate the precedence principle and the principle of hedonic dominance that define customers’ rules for experience and emotion optimization, atleast there is scope for success.

  26. DestyaVisitor

    Well, I didn’t have any of those BMW series. But I am a product designer which is very respect with Mr. Bangle’s attitude, concept, and braveness. I can fell his spirit, and joy of life from his design. This what we need on full skeptic and cynical world. He awake me with his positive energy, and he is inspiring me to be more brave with new & radical idea. Especially for the BMW GINA Light Visionary Model. It’s a spectacular, remarkable, and I have no words to say again about this!!!. Salute Mr. Bangle!! Keep up the brilliant works!!.

  27. navidVisitor

    i love chris bangle .im navid from iran .im17 .im designer .CHRIS BAGLE MY LOVE

  28. ArenVisitor

    As a Chinese Styling student, the design of Chris, Z4, is always one of my favourite cars. I can feel the power and emotion trickling in the body. It’s amazing! You are a legend,Chris!

  29. ShahroozVisitor

    I have for long been a true BMW fan (about the biggest) and I personally think BMWs of 90s were the purest BMWs. The E34 is my very favorite. It was a BMW, rather than a competitor to all other cars. I feel like those BMWs knew what they were on about. But, I still do like Bangle’s designs. Truly woreship the E60, absolutely love the E65/66 and the E63/64, and I am actually very sad that he’s now left BMW. To me, the new models have lost that bit of personality taht BMWs have always had. They seem to me like robots. Very fast, very nice to drive, but when you get out of them, as long as neighmors see you, you don’t really want to look back at the car. Didn’t know this Adrian guy could come up with cars so ugly. In a way I am sad, because I still cannot take any car without a BMW badge and there’s only old ones out there for me, which are all gonna soon get into the pages of history.

    Thank you,

  30. Alf.WangVisitor

    I am a game art designer in Taiwan, Chris Bangle designed BMW.
    I really .. really like it ~ it is a great work of art!

    I have drawn some car designs in my blog

    Sorry ~ my English grammar is not good!
    BMW body sheet metal parts —- I really like the design!

    SO ~
    I most admired designers —– Chris Bangle


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