Inside The New MINI with Head of Interior Design Oliver Sieghart.

“The interior of the MINI stands out with its individual style, variability, functionality and aesthetic appeal. It gives a feeling of driving something really special.” – Oliver Sieghart, Head of MINI Interior Design.

With The New MINI landing in dealerships around the globe, ready to wheeled away by both long loyal fans and MINIacs to be, MINI Space grabbed an exclusive with Oliver Sieghart, Head of Interior Design and the man behind the cutting edge style of The New MINI and the MINI Vision Concept.

Read the illuminating Q&A below for an insider’s look into how emotion and ergonomics merge in The New MINI, and discover what it takes to design an icon inside and out.

MINI (M): ‘Touch’ is an important quality of a car’s interior. More so than the exterior – which is often seen at a distance – the interior is an intimate space. How important is it to experience your ideas in 3D before they go into production? At what point in the creative process do they move from the sketchbook to clay or another tangible material?
Oliver Sieghart (OS): A sketch is always the first and the quickest instrument to express your ideas. But then at a certain point the sketch reaches its limits and it is then crucial to bring it into 3D. We have high quality tools to develop virtual interiors such as 3D caves or full-size screens with mapping of textures and real time retracing to get realistic shadows on shut lines and gaps. We spend a lot of time in this virtual world, where we look closely at the surfacing in CAD data.

But there is no better tool to verify proportions, feelings of space, usability of storage compartments and ergonomics than a 3D hardware model. That’s why we use at certain times in the process 1:1 hardware models like clay models, mock-up models etc. Also, touch is important and together with the color and trim designers we always strive to lift the level of interior quality, in order that all materials that you touch are as emotional as the form language itself.

M: What are some new features in the latest MINI models you’re most excited about? With The New MINI hitting the streets, we’re especially curious about these.
OS: I'm really excited about our new centre instrument with the new user interface and the multifunctional LED ring, which we designed with the same love as the hardware of The New MINI. The interactive LED ring around the centre instrument supports the driver in typical MINI fashion. For instance, besides navigation and infotainment, a lot of different new themes such as economy and sport driving have found their way into the centre instrument. These features are presented in the LED ring by way of illuminated indications such as the relevant speed: the faster the car goes, the more indications shine.

Another clever and very MINI-like feature I like is the ‘start-stop toggle’. A striking signal with red and white illumination in the dark, the toggle sits in the middle of the centre stack and presents a completely unique and fun solution to starting the car ­ typically MINI, with the proverbial ‘twinkle in the eye’.

M: Beyond the basics, what is the function of a MINI interior? Obviously it needs a steering wheel and some cup holders, but what are the distinctly MINI ideas and feelings that find their way into this space?
OS: We are always eager to express the certain character of the car to be the perfect partner for the road, tailored to the needs and preferences of the individual driver. But beyond the basic needs that each interior has to fulfill, we’re always looking into some further clever functionalities. Cars - and MINI even more - are emotional functional objects. Today, not only leather, fabrics and woods ensure a certain atmosphere but also sophisticated, customisable lighting systeM. For almost ten years MINI has been exploring different scenarios of ambient lighting. We decide very closely what really fits to the car and where the pure gimmick begins. So there is a form of interior lighting that creates a certain mood, but it can also emphasise design details – such as the MINI Center Rail in the MINI Countryman – and help the customer to find his way around the interior.

M: How does an interior interact with its exterior?
OS: Of course both exterior and interior have to correspond in form language and character fitting to the concept of the car. This is not a problem, because the MINI Design Team is working in one studio together, so all disciplines are in a constant exchange. One example where we pushed the interaction between the exterior and the interior to the maximum was the MINI Vision Concept.

We used a new material which we called ‘organo metal’ that adds highlights not only to the outside of the car, but also to the interior. Its unique structure lends the MINI Vision a cutting-edge character. Also the use of a tough, dark-blue fabric recalling the properties of a high-quality suit was employed for the seats and sections of interior trim. The seamless transitions of the various materials between the interior and exterior brought consistency to the MINI Vision despite the use of different materials and textures.

M: MINI has always been a pioneer of innovation, and ‘connectivity’ has become one of the hottest topics in progressive automotive design. How does MINI tackle this challenge?
OS: We are aware of the importance of this topic and we are working hard on the future functionality and design of the user interface. Last year, we created an interior for the MINI Vision Concept with a user interface which gets out of the box of square displays and, thanks to the use of clever lighting, uses the whole interior as an interactive user interface.

At this year´s Salone del Mobile we have shown the MINI Hub with a focus on connectivity. The installation PARALLELS - Inspired by MINI Connected, in collaboration with London based designer collective United Visual Artists (UVA), showed our artistic approach towards connectivity based on the inspiration of the centre instrument in The New MINI.

MINI Connected has already entered a new level with The New MINI. In my opinion connectivity will continue to significantly change user behaviour and also the geometric design of future interiors.

M: From the gear stick to the driver’s seat, interior components vary greatly in scale. How do you approach these design challenges differently? Do you use a different approach when working on a whole model versus an individual piece?
OS: Interior design is teamwork! A small communicative team with good vibrations is necessary. We have design road maps for details and a lead designer for each project. And of course you need a design management with design visions and guidelines to show the way. So as described before, we apply the same care and thoroughness to details as to the whole interior to reach the same level of quality.

M: The silhouette of MINI is iconic. Does an interior strive to be iconic as well or is its brilliance measured by how comfortable the passenger feels without taking notice of the rest?
OS: MINI interiors have their own ‘iconic’ look with the unique centre instrument or the recurring use of circular graphical elements. Hallmark features are also the toggle switches or the speedometer on the steering wheel column. An array of chrome highlights and beautifully worked details are integrated like geM into the design of the car. But of course the design has to fulfill all comfort or ergonomic requirements too.

M: How do you balance form and function to create a thing that fits the wide-ranging needs of so many?
OS: First we have to understand the real needs of customers and then based on that knowledge, start a unique MINI design proposal. The fundamental idea behind the MINI brand ­ of providing maximum comfort within MINImal exterior dimensions ­ filters through every detail of the interior. The interior of the MINI stands out with its individual style, variability, functionality and aesthetic appeal. So on one hand MINI interiors have to fascinate and attract the customer. They give a feeling of driving something really special. On the other hand they are supposed to be "easy to use". Here we worked hard with The New MINI to offer to our customers a broad range of choices for an individual interior in order to fit the different needs of a huge variety of customers.

M: Does your profession affect the interior of your home? Does your home affect your approach to MINI design?
OS: Somehow yes. I'm very focused on good craftsmanship and quality in details. This is something I can't lay down at home. Since I'm working at MINI Design you will probably find more colours in my home.

M: Many thanks, Oliver, for sharing your insights with the community!