DESIGNING MINI: FOCUSING ON THE ESSENTIALS.
An interview with Florian Nissl, Exterior Designer, MINI.
Florian Nissl is part of the Munich-based team that designs MINI’s distinctive exteriors, creating cars that embody the essence of the brand’s 60-year heritage, while adding innovative modern twists.
“We try to modernise MINI with every project we do, and … create new designs while keeping this great history and the iconic design MINI already has,” Nissl says.
As a result, each design is recognisably MINI – “but a completely modern, fresh look [that’s] different from everything you’e seen before.”
Designing an icon.
Today’s MINIs reference the designs of the brand’s founder, Sir Alec Issigonis, who in the late 1950s developed a head-turning car that defied convention. The classic Mini, with its space-saving transverse engine, a suspension system that gave the car its now iconic ‘go-kart’ feeling, and bold design, changed the idea of what an automobile could be.
Nissl and his team draw on this DNA while pushing the boundaries of automotive design themselves. They make sure that the modern MINI continues to turn heads while retaining everything that makes it…MINI.
“The form holds everything together so you can recognise a MINI instantly, and this whole concept of clever, creative use of space … has to be in our minds to generate a new design.”
The key to evolving the design of an icon, says Nissl, is to know which elements make a MINI…a MINI, and retain them while evolving other parts of the car.
“The design team has a very clear understanding of what these iconic elements are. You could wake them up in the middle of the night and they’d be able to tell you what they are right away.”
Nissl refers to the MINI VISION NEXT 100 as a great example of this approach at work. The team stripped the idea of MINI of everything but its bare essence and then imagined what a MINI of the future might look like.
The result, says Nissl, “is a car that is still MINI but completely different from everything you’ve seen before.”
“It’s such an achievement to create designs that are so valid after so many years,” he says.
Collaboration is key.
There’s a reason MINI’s teams work so closely with each other, and the close collaboration between the design and engineering teams shows in the final product.
The studio in Munich is home to more than 35 designers (eight of whom work with Nissl on the exteriors) and engineering teams, who each bring their own personalities, experience and expertise to the design process. It’s crucial that they work closely together to create a car in which every part contributes seamlessly to that distinct MINI experience.
“The whole process needs to give the customer the feeling that everything is done intentionally, almost from one handwriting,” Nissl says. “There shouldn’t be any corner of the car that you look at and go ‘it looks like a different person has done it, it doesn’t really fit’.”
To achieve this, Nissl sees to it that everyone involved in a project is kept up-to-date. It’s very important, he says, that information is exchanged between all relevant teams regularly. There should be no surprises...” it’s a collaboration.”
“Everyone knows what the other guys are doing…so you don’t lose track of what your colleagues are working at. We work as a cross-functional team – I’m not separated from things that go on in interior design and we also work very closely with the colour and trim designers.”
And your favourite MINI is…
“It’s actually really difficult to say. I had a Clubman for eight months recently and I really like the car. The overall quality is very good and I really like the design of the interior, the dashboard…and the exterior obviously.”
“But, it’s not just design I think. It really fit in with my everyday life…for the many things I wanted to do with the car…like go for a weekend trip. You can put a lot in the boot…especially when you fold the rear bench. It’s a cool cruiser…a really, really good package.”
“I even got the thumbs up from people in traffic…I think MINI provokes a lot of positive feelings from other people and that’s really cool.”