Overview:

The German car manufacturer’s own “skunkworks” adds to the collection of creative companies already there.

Global creative consultancy Designworks is set to open a new, 16,500 sq ft office space on Olympic Blvd in Santa Monica, a part of the city already home to top creative companies including Pixomondo, Naughty Dog and Bad Robot.

Designworks is a wholly owned subsidiary of BMW Group and has two additional studios, in Munich and Shanghai. Established independently in 1972 by legendary industrial designer Charles Pelly, it was bought by the German car manufacturer in 1995 and proved instrumental in the design of a number of mass produced vehicles, including the XL Sports Activity Vehicle and the 5 Series.

The company was originally based in Malibu Canyon, when it was still known as DesignworksUSA and had only three designers. Early clients included Hyster and the Otis Elevator Company. After having expanded further and relocated to Van Nuys, the first collaboration with BMW was in 1986, on the 8 Series and just two years later, the company relocated again to Newbury Park and expanded its client base to include Nokia, Compaq, Siemens and Adidas.

The new headquarters will be at 1601 Olympic Blvd and remains the company’s only US-based operation. Today, despite being owned by BMW, Designwork’s client list still makes up approximately 30 percent of the work undertaken. You could very much consider this company to be BMW’s “skunkworks.”

“Oh yes, we’re going through a phase where we’re doing more for the BMW group, but our business model is such that work for other clients is very important, not only for us, but for BMW too, as it builds a creative environment that isn’t solely tied to the automotive industry,” Holger Hampf, President of Designworks told the Santa Monica Daily Press.

“We’re learning from other industries and it creates an open world, creative consulting environment that we’re very proud of.”

Residents of Santa Monica are probably quite used to seeing BMW branding being bounded about as there is a dealership on Santa Monica Blvd and without a doubt, one of the most popular—and practical—vehicles on the road is the legendary MINI, the former UK-based brand, which was bought, redesigned and relaunched by BMW in the late 90s.

“Los Angeles and indeed the whole West Coast market is very important to BMW,” says Hampf. “Picking the right location—Santa Monica—was crucial as it’s definitely one of the more progressive municipalities that’s pushing for modern mobility, alternative transportation and a healthy mix of different options, which makes it very interesting.”

The selection of site ultimately came down to a choice between this location and one in Culver City.

“We would look for very similar qualities in Germany,” Hampf says. “The desire to be an environment actively seeking a sustainable lifestyle. So in terms of the materials that we pick that make up the interior of a car, designers continue to study this market and try to understand consumer desires, alternatives to plastics and so on. We’re currently in the studio doing a lot of visionary work on new materials for car interiors and so on.”

Designworks is planning a number of open houses and round table events in the future and is looking to tap into local talent by working closely with schools and colleges in the area.

“It might just sound like an office relocation and a new workspace, but to me it’s very important where we are and the chance to connect to, not only the creative industry around us, but also academia, students and the community, to be honest, is invaluable,” Hampf says.

scott.snowden@smdp.com

Scott Snowden

Scott Snowden started with the SMDP in 2023 with a long list of journalistic experience. He has written local and international investigative work in Forbes, The Sunday Times, The Financial Times, The...