A Portrait of a MINI Designer: Marcus Syring

Writing for MotoringFile over the years has afforded us great opportunities to get to know the people behind the cars that we love. From Frank Stephanson to Gert Hildebrand and now Anders Warming we’ve always been impressed by the character of each and the dedication to the brand above personal interests. But perhaps no one has had a bigger impact and been ore dedicated to MINI in recent years than Marcus Syring.

Head of Exterior Design at MINI since 2002. Born in Westphalia in northwest Germany, he deems automotive design to be the toughest and yet also the most stimulating of the product design disciplines. As you can imagine his job as Head of Exterior Design MINI is full of variety. The interaction between his many different duties – ranging from creative input to dialogue-based work to managerial tasks – is as rewarding as it is complex. He puts the fascination of the whole design process down to the unique nature of each new job: guidelines and framework conditions that are in a constant state of flux, a sense of aesthetic perception that keeps evolving, plus the ever-changing desires of society and customers all combine to create an inimitable environment

Design as a vocation.

Marcus Syring opted for BMW Group Design as soon as he had completed his studies in product design at the University of Wuppertal, first joining the design specialists at BMW Motorsport GmbH BMW in 1991 before moving on to the Design Department of BMW Technik GmbH in 1997. Since the relaunch of the MINI brand under the aegis of the BMW Group in 2000 he has been part of the Exterior Design team at MINI. The avid thinker and tinkerer considers what he does to be a vocation. A pivotal moment came when a girlfriend made him see the potential of product design as a profession, and he immediately knew that was the only thing he really wanted to do. The designer describes the time he first laid eyes on a clay model during a work placement as a watershed moment for his career path. What’s more, it was the culmination of a childhood dream: even before he was old enough to go to school, Marcus Syring amused himself by using play dough to transform conventional notchback toy cars into design driven concepts.


An eye for detail.

Recent models whose exterior design Marcus Syring was ultimately responsible for and which can be seen out on the road today include the MINI Coupé and the MINI Roadster. He refers to the BMW Z3 Coupé (and M Coupe) – already revered as a classic – and the MINI Clubman as career milestones.

A few years ago I had dinner with Markus just around the time that the two door Ferrari FF shooting-brake was released. The first thing I said to him that night was “you were right”. However knowing that I was trying to give him credit in beating Ferrari by 15 years to with the Z3 Coupe he immediately deflected the compliment and corrected me. “No we were right”.


According to Marcus, good design can be measured by its functional perspectives in three different ways. Besides the physical technical function, encompassing aspects such as ergonomics and all types of technical demands, design must always fulfil an aesthetic function, too. And at the same time, good design also has to meet various requirements in terms of its symbolic function. At MINI this means, among other things, that a MINI instantly stands out as a premium car despite its stature.

Marcus sees himself as a commissioned artist in the classical sense. The creative scope he is granted by a brief that gives an exact description of what is required without specifying the solution is of crucial importance for his creative output. In Marcus Syring’s view, the characteristically unbiased approach at BMW Group Design is essential for achieving a successful result and for enabling all concerned to work together constructively. It’s an approach that chimes in exactly with the open-minded Marcus Syring and one that he endeavours to instil in his team.   On the personal side.

Besides architecture, fashion and product and consumer design, Marcus Syring finds art a great source of inspiration – though the artistic movement or genres are by no means the decisive factor. What is important is that the piece is able to captivate the observer with an emotive appeal expressed, for example, through its wealth of contrasts. He believes the works by architects Herzog & deMeuron are prime examples of this, as they are not confined by any notion of continually recurring formalism – rather, it is the very uniqueness of their edifices, tailored to their surroundings, purpose and client, that makes them stand out. In his free time, the designer enjoys visiting museums, reading and listening to music ranging from Jamie Cullum to Paul Weller. He keeps himself fit with jogging, swimming and yoga.   Marcus Syring lives in Munich, is married and has a young daughter.

  • ulrichd

    Since Frank Stephenson got so much credit for the R50/53 I’d be interested to hear what Marcus’ role was since the story calls him “head of MINI exterior design since 2002”.

    • He led everything starting in 2002 onward. That means his first big project was the 2005 refresh.

      • lavardera

        No doubt he is responsible for the continuity we see from the late R53 to the R56, like the direct way that the R53 JCW fascia leaped to the R56 CooperS.

        • ulrichd

          I don’t envy the task he has in front of him with the design of the F56. Will the R50/53 fans run howling for the hills? Where do go with the third generation of a retro design (I know they don’t like that word)? Revolution vs. evolution.

        • I’m pretty much convinced that most “R53 fans” won’t like the F56 no matter what it is. 😉

        • David T

          Haha! Yet ouch, truth hurts…. As an R53 fan, I think you are right about my future reaction but I am always hopeful. 🙂

        • ulrichd

          Maybe we are becoming like the BMW guys who think there hasn’t been a real M3 since the E30 🙂

        • This is spot on 🙂

        • R.Burns

          Oh… I love my R53, but i don’t want to be considered as an embittered “R53 fan”

  • akwaba

    Since Frank Stephenson and r50/r53, mini design is crappy. It’s impossible to compare the light style from stephenson who is exactly a mix between latin/nordic style with an english touch, and the marcus style who is pure nordic/german (without angry) style : massive, big, botox like, agressive… There’s no doubt that the r53 need reloocking but the marcus way wasn’t the right way at all… far away from the spirit, far far away… i own a r52.

    • ulrichd

      After the 07 R56 came out I left similar posts here and elsewhere that basically were “WTF happened?”. The car had a frogeyed front end, high belt line, tippy high stance, and too big tail lights with heavy handed chrome trim, loss of the clambshell hood, and it looked bloated. I hated it. I have softened my stance a little over the years but have never been close to buying one. If I had to I would choose the Clubman over the hatch.

      I understand that the new euro pedestrian impact standards dictated the higher hoodline which in turn dictated a higher beltline. I don’t like it, but there it is.

      I am anxious to see the F56, especially the new 3-cyl 1.5 l Cooper with 138hp. Fingers crossed.

      • The R56 still has a clamshell hood, it just doesn’t have the headlights in it anymore. I was also not a fan of the R56 when it came out. But if I’m honest with myself, I was more philosophically opposed to the MINI changing at all than I was critical of the actual R56. Not that it was perfect in retrospect (it wasn’t), but once I got over just hating change itself, what ultimately won me over to the R56 was taking time to get used to the new details, and then especially the way it drives. At this point though, I like the R56 just fine aesthetically, although I think that almost every other car in the R5X lineup is better looking overall. The Clubman, the Coupe, and the Roadster each extended the revised design language that we saw in the R56 and improved upon it, I think. The 2011 refresh of the R56 also helped it out a lot, both mechanically and in many of its interior details (center stack especially, which I think we can all agree was a fatally flawed design). I think that the fact that there are just as many (if not more) passionate MINI fans who bought R56s and love them says a lot about perspective. It’s really easy to be all “get off my lawn” about the R56 as an R53 owner, but it’s still a great car. I would hope the F56 is something we can all be excited about.

      • akwaba

        it would be acceptable if it were only the new euro pedestrian impact standards problem. I think problem it’s in the roots of the designer, in the roots of bmw, in the roots of actual society to built monster cars… pedestrian problem doesn’t impose to lost my nice r52 elliptical optics, very nice light elliptical mirror instead of the horrible one’s on country man for instance… the cooper s countryman is over the top of horror sincerely…it gather all what i dislike (for a mini). The paceman is in the good way for me, not ideal but…) Because i thinks it’s a problem from the roots… i’m not confident at all for f56. wait an see.

  • Frank Granados

    I think Syring did a good job with the Clubman. To my eye, the R55 is the best looking model of the second generation (And the Roadster). Having owned a “LCI” 2005 R53 S, I always appreciated the enhancements the first gen MINIs received that year.

    Frank Stephenson is legend. There are good car designers and exceptional ones. Frank was clearly the latter.