For Oliver Heilmer, Head of MINI Design since September 2017, design is not just a career, it’s a vocation. The Munich native has been driven by the desire to create new cars since he was a boy. Here, the 43-year-old tells us about his idea of good design, his plans for the future of the MINI brand and the sense of boldness and daring they require.
1. Where do you find your inspiration?
In essence, I am fascinated by anything that fuels my imagination and sparks my creativity. For example, I find music extremely inspiring – anything from jazz to hip hop. However, the aesthetic of technical products also excites me. I’m thinking of products that have been developed and built by engineers from a purely technical standpoint – but which still exude extraordinary beauty.
2. What do you think of as “good design”?
For me, good design is consistent and reflects a purpose. The function of a product has to be immediately clear from its form and, above all, usable. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with beauty. Another ingredient of good design for me is that it is not too loud. But at the same time it should polarise, at least to some degree, or it will risk being anonymous. There are many examples of car designs which initially polarise opinion but despite this – or perhaps because of it – blaze a trail for a whole new vehicle segment.
3. What does MINI mean for you?
To me, MINI embodies a confident and modern attitude far removed from luxury in sheer size. It doesn’t matter how exclusively or expensively equipped a MINI is, it is always compact on the outside. In my eyes, this shows that people who drive a MINI do so for their own enjoyment.
4. What excites you most about your job as a car designer?
As car designers we are actively creating an important part of all our futures and we are always looking to make the best out of this exciting time. Of course, we don’t know exactly what the future will bring. But I’m sure the technological changes we’re experiencing will be positive. Knowing that I can contribute to this process is all I need to get out of bed in the morning.
5. Where do you see MINI in the future and what sort of things are you keen to encourage as Head of MINI Design?
The way I see it, MINI is a brand which is not only capable of constantly developing, changing even, but which needs to do so. The product range we’ve put together at MINI is very good. From a quality point of view, in particular, we’re scaling greater heights than ever – and outperforming many of our competitors. However, it’s also clear that our path can not only be evolutionary. We’ve got some big items on our agenda: autonomous driving, electric mobility, digitalisation and shared services, to name but a few. And we need to be shaping these areas. To this end, the key thing for me is that the substance of MINI remains authentic. After all, MINI is an urban brand and that’s something it should continue to embody in the years to come. So for me, MINI in the future will be pure electric. Clearly, much still needs to be done in terms of infrastructure.