Munich. The MINI Cooper SE has recently hit the
streets. But what you can’t see at first glance is that its design is
now also something you can hear. Head of MINI Design Oliver Heilmer
and Renzo Vitale, BMW Group Sound Designer, give some insights into
the Design of the MINI Cooper SE (combined fuel consumption: 0.0 l/100
km; combined electricity consumption: 16.8 – 14.8 kWh/100 km; combined
CO2 emissions: 0 g/km) and the soundscapes that come with it. Our
conversation covers attention to detail, MINI sound, the interplay of
information and feeling, and how an icon of automotive design sees its future.
Mr. Heilmer, the first MINI was an instant icon. What is it
that attracts you about taking a design as familiar as this to the
Oliver Heilmer (OH): For me, the appeal lies in the
scale of the challenge. Updating such an iconic design is no easy
task. The stronger an icon is – and MINI has a big tradition – the
greater the importance not only of innovation but also continuity. So
this is about smoothing the intersection, integrating the historic and
the new; the MINI Cooper SE is equally identifiable as a MINI and an
Does that mean there wasn’t a great deal that needed changing
when it came to the MINI Cooper SE?
OH: When a car has proven itself and, for example,
fits perfectly into the context of urban mobility – like the MINI
3-door – it may seem like nothing much needs doing. But things are, of
course, rather more complex when you get to work. Sometimes it’s
actually more challenging than designing a new vehicle from scratch.
To make it possible to tell a fully electric MINI Cooper SE apart from
a MINI with conventional combustion engine, for example, we started by
looking at what each element contributes to the overall effect. It was
striking that changes to some details caused the design – and
therefore the perception of a MINI – to pretty much fall apart. We
were keen to retain the core of MINI while at the same time having an
eye on the future. That’s why we decided to focus on specific accents
which differentiate a MINI Cooper SE from a combustion-engined MINI.
Which design details are electric-specific?
OH: One example is that the MINI Cooper SE has a
largely blanked-off front grille. As you’ll know, an electric vehicle
doesn’t need cooling air in the same place as one running a combustion
engine. That’s why the MINI Cooper SE grille only has a slim
horizontal slot for air to enter through. The remainder of the grille
is closed flush and finished in a contrasting, modern grey colour. The
electric drive system and the feeling of modernity that go with it are
clearly reflected inside the car by elements such as the digital
instrument cluster, which displays all the relevant information for
the electric driving experience. We also very clearly wanted to go a
new direction with the design of the wheels, which are asymmetric,
almost static in appearance. We have created something that very
purposefully breaks with the classical description of a wheel rim. The
accent colour Energetic Yellow also points to the electric character
of the MINI Cooper SE and can be found in various places, including
the mirror caps and the “E” logo on the front grille, tailgate and
side scuttles. To ensure the colour accentuation has the desired
effect, the rest of the car is deliberately restrained.
Has electrification opened up a new approach to design? Or
even a new kind of emotionalisation?
OH: Definitely. The overall experience is everything.
Electrification gives us the starting point to think about things
fundamentally differently – and not only in the aesthetic sense. To
put it simplistically, it enables us to explore new worlds. What we’re
endeavouring to do looking forward is to bring the sensory interaction
of various design elements, such as the styling, sound or scent of a
vehicle, into the MINI in a coherent way.
The MINI Cooper SE already follows a new approach to design in some
areas. What we want to do at MINI in the future is offer design for
all the senses – a carefully orchestrated interplay of experiences,
rather than singular elements. This affects different areas; there is
an exterior and an interior, harmonisation with materials and colours
– which is very important at MINI. And then there is the user
interface. One question that comes up here is: how do I interact with
different themes and what do I see on the display during this process?
Of course, sound also plays a key role. What used to be a rather dry
topic – creating a parking warning sound, say – can become an
emotional experience with electric mobility. We can decide for
ourselves how an electric MINI should sound, what kind of emotional
reaction we spark with it, what feelings we want to communicate. For
example, Renzo Vitale, who developed the composition for the MINI
Cooper SE, explained its sound to me in the way we generally describe
design. I realised immediately that this approach could open up a
totally new world of experiences for us and for MINI.
Renzo Vitale, you’re a musician, composer and electrical
engineer. What was the main challenge in developing the sound for
the fully electric MINI Cooper SE?
Renzo Vitale (RV): Fundamentally, the sound a vehicle
makes should trigger emotions and at the same time transmit
information. Our aim was to replicate the two sides of the coin in the
MINI but also draw a clear line of differentiation between them. For
many people, the sound of a combustion engine stirs strong emotions.
But we were clear from the outset that it didn’t make sense to
simulate a combustion engine note. There are no gear changes, after
all. And when the driver accelerates, they have all of the drive
system’s energy at their disposal straightaway. The content of the
sounds I create and my main sources of inspiration stem from design.
For the MINI Cooper SE, for example, I translated the visual
impressions created by the wheels and yellow accents into sound.
How do you develop the sound of an electric vehicle?
RV: I start by looking at the vehicle as a whole. I
see it as an instrument. Musicians use instruments to generate
feelings. In the same way, the vehicle should trigger feelings in the
driver – and other road users, come to that. Of course, sound is
always information too, and these two aspects – emotion and
information – must both be represented. The vehicle sounds different
depending on what we do here. For example, the MINI Cooper SE exudes a
friendly, welcoming, almost luminous character. The moment you pull
away, a dynamic sound is produced that gives you the feeling of
forward motion and speed. Regardless of how the vehicle is being
driven – with a demanding or a restrained style – the sound has to be
able to illustrate all driving states and at the same time reflect the
brand and make it something that can be experienced. I think we have
achieved this with the MINI Cooper SE.
How does the MINI Cooper SE sound? How does MINI sound?
RV: For me, MINI sound can be split into three parts:
passionate, energetic and inspirational. MINI has a twinkle in its
eye, an element of the surprising about it – a twist. And that should
be something you can also experience with your eyes closed. Sound is
one of a vehicle’s means of expression, like a voice which it uses to
communicate with us. Incidentally, silence is also a form of
communication, an element of sound. I spent a long time looking at the
MINI Cooper SE when I was composing its sound, so that I could really
capture its character. I tried to translate the car’s lines into
audible form. The voice of a MINI is luminescent. It’s saying: “you’ve
got a friend close by”.
Which direction is MINI design heading in? Will we end up
seeing a smartphone on wheels, dressed up in an iconic shell?
OH: A vehicle is more complex than any mobile phone.
The whole area of autonomous driving shows us clearly how complex it
is. Rather than a mobile phone on wheels, we see the MINI of the
future as a “partner in crime”. Many owners give their MINIs a name,
and we want to build on that, very simply and intuitively, so that a
real bond can emerge – a connection that extends beyond purely
driving. That doesn’t need to be hugely intricate technologically.
More than anything, it should bring a smile to people’s faces.
RV: For example, it is conceivable that the MINI will
be able to sense the driver’s mood and respond with sound; it will
offer them a sound world which makes a moment better. This can be a
kind of soundscape, a sound signal or a piece of music. The vehicle is
expressing itself and giving the occupants the feeling of not being alone.
OH: Exactly. And then, in addition to sound, there is
also light to consider. Not only in terms of specific information
appearing on the display, but as lighting moods. We’re talking here
ideally about the interplay of light and sound. A MINI kind of gives
me the feeling that someone is there who I can communicate with. An
all-encompassing approach is critical here – the connection between
tactile experiences, sound, moods and materials. We want to make this
new MINI feeling something customers can experience.
Oliver Heilmer is also on Instagram: follow Oliver.Heilmer
The following applies to consumption figures for vehicles with new
type approval, September 2017 onward: The figures for fuel
consumption, CO2 emissions and energy consumption are obtained in
accordance with the specified measuring procedure (EC Regulation No.
715/2007), as issued and amended. The figures are for a basic-version
vehicle in Germany. The bandwidths allow for differences in the choice
of wheel and tire sizes and items of optional equipment and can be
changed by the configuration.
Obtained on the basis of the new "Worldwide harmonized Light vehicles Test
Procedure" (WLTP), the figures are converted back to the
"New European Driving Cycle" (NEDC) for the sake of
comparability. Values other than those stated here may be used for the
purposes of taxation and for other vehicle-related duties relating to
More information about official fuel consumption figures and the
official specific CO2 emissions of new passenger cars can be obtained
from the "guideline on fuel consumption, CO2 emissions and
current consumption of new passenger cars", available here: https://www.dat.de/co2/.
In the event of enquiries please contact:
BMW Group Corporate Communications
Spokesperson MINI Design
Email: [email protected]
Spokesperson BMW Group Design
EMail: [email protected]