Designing an all new model for a storied brand like MINI is not an easy task. The history and expectations are sometimes at odds with the need for innovation. As part of the Aceman launch, Head of Design Oliver Heilmer sat down to talk about the process and how he and his team took the Aceman from sketch to production.

Question: Mr. Heilmer, when you joined MINI in 2017 – how did you develop a vision to lead the models into the future?

Oliver Heilmer: Given that MINI is a very traditional brand, the question was: How do you transform such a brand into the future? To answer this, we had to go back to the time when the classic Mini was created to understand the spirit behind Sir Alec Issigonis’s Mini. That helped us envision where the MINI brand needed to head in today’s context. In the next step, together with our very diverse team, we approached this essence of the original Mini and formulated our own creative mindset. And based on this, we developed an overall brand design vision that serves as a guideline for the design of the new products.

Q: What was your biggest challenge in developing a completely new design language?

OH: The biggest challenge was and is continuous. Dealing with the strong history of the brand. The first MINI was an absolute disruption – that too is part of the story. Now you could say that MINI is disruption and we forget everything that happened before. But then we lose the heart of the brand. Instead, we now talk about independent characters – and the MINI Cooper was an instant icon for us. You get closer to the original idea of the original: strong character, but with as few means as possible – “Charismatic Simplicity” also expresses that.

Q: What does the new MINI design language “Charismatic Simplicity” stand for and how is this reflected in the new MINI Aceman?

OH: It’s about strong characters and about each family member taking their individual position within the MINI family. If you look at the side, for example, the MINI Aceman has a very unique design language and unique graphics for the wheel arch covers. It is compact, appears agile and has a certain urge to move forward. That’s what makes this character, this charismatic. At the same time, we avoid unnecessary style elements. The exercise was to describe your own character using as few resources as possible.

Q: How would you describe the character of the MINI Aceman?

OH: The MINI Aceman is both a practical and expressive and unique addition to the MINI family. The Aceman is an independent character that can be edgy and appeals to customers who, regardless of their age, value individuality and personality in urban spaces.

Q: The MINI Aceman is the first of its kind. Why is the MINI Aceman exactly the right vehicle for the urban environment?

OH: The MINI Aceman fits perfectly into the urban environment as it reinterprets MINI’s classic values in a modern, all-electric crossover format. It offers an elevated seating position that conveys a feeling of safety and generous space without losing the compactness and maneuverability that are characteristic of MINI.

Q: What gives you fresh inspiration for the development of new MINI models?

OH: Inspiration is never a coincidence, but comes from a regular, targeted exchange within our team, in which each member shares inspiring and fascinating experiences: one builds skateboards, for example, the other lived on a sailboat for two years. I would roughly differentiate between direct and indirect inspiration. It’s all part of the indirect inspiration that fuels this spirit, which can be seen in the materials as well as in the surfaces and in the digital. Direct inspiration can be found, for example, in architecture or fashion. What is crucial, however, is the creative discourse within the team.

Q: How do new, sustainably produced materials influence the design process at MINI?

OH: Our brand design vision is based on our Creative Mindset, which includes four guiding values: Heartbeat, Curiosity, Responsibility and Daredevil. These values represent our basic principles such as heritage, curiosity for new things, sustainability and the courage to stand out. Sustainability and the responsible use of resources do not mean giving up for us, but rather we explore new possibilities in our creative process. Instead of materials such as leather, we use alternative technologies that allow for more design freedom and individualization, for example through the use of patterns or two-tone colors. For example, the 3D knit as one of the central design elements is inspired by the sneaker industry. And for aesthetic and environmental reasons, we are replacing chrome with our new color Vibrant Silver.

Q: Which MINI Aceman design innovation are you particularly proud of?

OH: Two things in particular, and they both relate to size: The MINI Aceman is extremely compact because the overhangs at the front and rear are very short. Nevertheless, the vehicle is extremely safe. This is due to truly outstanding engineering work. But it’s not just the things you can see that are special. I would also like to highlight how the feeling of space is handled throughout the interior, so that maximum lightness is achieved.

Q: Are there hidden design elements that only become apparent upon closer inspection?

OH: The idea behind the little Easter eggs we have hidden is the fact that as a human being you want to be surprised. Not always at first, but also after a certain time. The digital innovation allows for playfulness, so that you can, for example, display the navigation arrow as a small MINI or display a large rotating record on the central instrument. And that’s how Spike came into being, an animal friend who has always been a loyal companion to the brand. And this gave rise to the idea of offering a kind of digital companion. So Spike came into the MINI and now lives in the display, so to speak.

Q: In which direction do you want to develop MINI design in the future?

OH: As a team, we are of the opinion that the “Creative Mindset” remains a guideline with the same relevance for future products. And at the same time, we will focus even more strongly on the value of responsibility. Curiosity and responsibility – we are currently taking these values with us into the thoughts of the next generation.

Q: If there was a product other than automobiles that you could design – what would it be?

OH: I could imagine many things, but if I had to choose, I would say: a sailboat. I’ve sailed maybe five times in my life, but I still have a fascination for the water and dealing with the forces that reign there. For my diploma thesis, I designed a trimaran together with a fellow student, with the question of whether “automotive” could be designed in an area of mobility that doesn’t necessarily have to take place on the road. I believe that there is still enormous potential there .