BMW Design 101

Simply looking at a BMW tells any driver they’re in for a involving, unique, and luxurious experience – but how exactly does a BMW’s design communicate all that in just one glance?

– Identity is something humans value tremendously on many levels, so it’s not surprising that it’s just as important when it comes to automobiles. 
The best cars communicate strongly through design alone. That’s why you know a BMW, and the values behind the brand, from a single glance.

It doesn’t happen this way by accident, and here we show you how, and why. 

BMW’s Signature Design Elements 

BMW’s history spans more than a century but you’ll still recognise a BMW no matter what the era

BMW has roots dating back more than a hundred years, with decades of success both on the road and track. Heritage and identity are intertwined, which is why people respond strongly to it. 

BMW Group Design Director, Adrian Van Hooydonk, sums it up clearly: ““Even a three-year old can recognize a BMW in traffic, and there’s no amount of advertising you can do to get that.”

Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President BMW Group Design

The brand achieves that not only through its engineering approach, but also its signature design elements, some of which you probably already know and we’ve listed them below. 

Kidney Grille

The BMW 303

The now famous kidney grille first appeared on a production BMW in 1933, in the 303 model, and although there is no formal history behind it, it’s now the most recognisable signature of the brand. When asked to consider the idea of a BMW without one, BMW Group Design Director Adrian Van Hooydonk said: “I can’t.”

The BMW X7

As you can see the kidney grille has undergone some major evolutions over the years. Take a look at the first-ever BMW X7 shown above, it’s has the largest kidney grille of a modern BMW, and it reflects the car’s spacious, grand, and opulent nature.  

Four headlamps 

The BMW E21 3 Series (Coupe)

The quadruple round headlamps have, like the kidney grille, quietly sneaked in to become a BMW hallmark. Again it’s something first seen prominently in the cars that defined the ‘modern’ BMW era: the first BMW 5 Series (E12) and BMW 3 Series (E21) models. In the newest BMWs, the four round headlamps are accentuated through LED daytime running lights, such as in the BMW 8 Series Coupe.

On the first-ever BMW X7, the quad headlamps also pack an extra punch in the form of BMW Laserlight  with Adaptive LED Headlights. Together with the kidney grille, they form the instantly recognisable ‘BMW face’. 

Hofmeister Kink

The BMW 1500 ‘New Series’, predecessor of the BMW 3 Series, was the first car to introduce this small, but significant design signature. Named after the 1500’s designer, then BMW head of design Wilhelm Hofmeister, it’s a small slash or cutout at the rearmost side window of the car, at the C-pillar.

The BMW 1500

Even in the 1500, it gives the car a less squared, more forward-leaning look that accentuates a BMW’s driving prowess and overall flowing proportions, and it lends the same benefits to the first-ever BMW X7.


The BMW M850i GT3 race car in a wind tunnel

BMWs have inherited DNA, but function is also a strong factor in their design, something that aerodynamics play a big role in. A BMW isn’t just designed to be eye-catching and soul-pleasing, but also efficient and cutting-edge advanced.

Air Curtain behind the front wheel of the BMW X7

Every BMW production model undergoes aerodynamic testing and has common features that help it perform better – such as the BMW Air Curtain feature that smoothes airflow over the wheels to reduce drag.  

Interior Design

Even without a blue and white roundel to clue you in, the interior of any BMW has a strong enough DNA that is plain to see once you know how. Two pillars of BMW’s cabin design are driver-centrism and the layered approach. 

Interior of the BMW X7

The driver-centric approach involves clearly defined, easy-to-read instruments as shown on the latest BMW Live Cockpit (with its active instrument display) and BMW Operating System 7.0, all built to support the driver.. 

The layered approach is evinced both in materials and operating zones – for example in the first-ever BMW X7 the BMW Live Cockpit and display screen are on the same level, closer to the driver’s eyeline, while the climate and radio controls are below, all contrasted by differing materials and colours. 

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CarBuyer Team
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