I recently had the opportunity to visit BMW DesignWorks USA for a couple hours. As you can probably tell by the name it is owned by BMW. The headquarters for BMW DesignWorks is in LA and there are branches in Singapore and Munich.
Even though they are owned by BMW, much of the design that they do is not for BMW itself. The DesignWorks group has created designs for everything from tractors to baby strollers and watches. What sets the company apart from other design companies is that they encourage ideas from everyone, even the accountants, and designers that are working on other projects. With a dozen projects being worked on at the same time it allows for a great number of ideas to influence the design of each product. They also never work on competing products at the same time, so sharing ideas is never a problem.
The facility and design area is very big and open with natural light shining through many openings in the roof. It is also very sparse, the walls, ceilings, and workspaces are all white with very little in the way of color. This was done, I was told, to reduce the number of distractions that may influence the designers while they work. However, each designer is allowed to decorate there own area, and pictures of their current projects can be seen on the walls, and if they need more, they can reserve a conference room to decorate with their own artwork to help get their creative juices flowing.
I was very interested to see that each of the designers had their own 30″ LCD monitor and a powerful machine. As you can probably guess BMW DesignWorks uses many different pieces of software. This software includes anything from Catia V5 for when they do industrial and automotive design, and Alias and Rhino for conceptual design.
Unfortunately, a computer is not always good enough, so when the need arises they can actually create physical models of their projects. To assist in this creation they have a large gantry CNC machine. With this machine they are able to carve models out of many different materials including foam or clay. This CNC machine is so large that it is capable of milling anything from a full size car model to something as small as sunglasses or a cellphone. When I was there it was working on the case for a new computer, which is top secret so I cannot talk about it.
Overall it was a really great experience and I have a new appreciation for designers and the work they do.