A sterile façade conceals the home of the fun Cooper Mini and designer Sandy McGill.
When I first drove up to BMW’s DesignworksUSA , I was disappointed to find a non-descript white office building nestled in a dull corporate plaza. Wait a minute! Shouldn’t this place be in an airport hangar? A glistening, Frank Gehry tower of innovation? These are the people that brought me the glory that is the modern Mini! They revolutionized automotive interface with the iDrive system! Shouldn’t they be ensconced in cathedral of cool?
Once inside, I realized that its sterile façade is just a front to keep freaks like me out; otherwise, I’d visit here every day. You see, I’ve been drinking the BMW Group Kool Aid for.. well, as long as my home equity enabled me.
So heading to its SoCal design mecca to interview a woman who’s spent the last 20 years helping ensure I stay hooked to the junk was thrilling. Even more exciting, was my realization that Sandy McGill’s passion and enthusiasm for her work is as real as my devotion to it.
Here’s a bit from incredible afternoon with her:
First of all, how have you worked here for 20 years when you look like you’re barely old enough to drive?
(Ha, ha) Well, I started here when I was very young. I was actually a student at UCLA. I went on a tour of Designworks and it was so great that I asked the tour guide, “Do they have internships?” And it turned out they did!
I would think it would be hard working somewhere for a long time. Are you still having fun?
Absolutely! Designworks is an exciting place because we work on a variety of industries. This cross-fertilization of ideas always keeps me curious, keeps me interested. And I am always learning, learning about a new project or learning from my colleagues, it really keeps it fresh. The diversity of what I do makes it feel like I’m not working most of the time.
Is it strange being a woman in a male dominated business?
Actually, I work in the CMF division (color, materials and finish) which actually has a high percentage of women. In fact, more and more men are joining CMF now, which is something new for me. I’ve been working with only women for so long. But it’s great, it really adds to the perspective.
How does being a woman affect how you work?
I think what I do (color, materials and finish) comes naturally to women– it’s the hunter/gatherer thing. I love to forage to the ends of the earth to find what I’m looking for and it’s really fun!
Has the company changed since you began here?
The globalization of our company is probably the biggest change. We have an office in Munich, of course, but now have one in Shanghai as well. Working with these colleagues really adds to the experience, to the cross-fertilization. And I love it! I didn’t realize I had such an affinity with Chinese design until I traveled there. Even better, I now have friends from Shanghai & Guangzhou as well.
You’ve worked on the launch of the Mini Cooper, the Rolls Royce Phantom and the Gulfstream G550–what project are you excited about these days?
I’m really excited about the BMW Individual program. It allows our clients to get as customized as they’d like, from the exterior paint color to the interior upholstery. It’s a program that was born when fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld was looking to customize his 7 series. now we have clients all over the world.
What’s the craziest thing a client has ever asked to you work into the Individual program?
One client brought us a feather. It sounded impossible at first, but it actually turned out beautifully. But the inspiration was simply a feather.
Who/what is your design muse?
Actually I get really inspired by our Interactive Design team. I have a really hard time understanding how they do what they do, but every time I see it, I am incredibly inspired.
What do you drive?
I drive the BMW X1 and I love it. It is nimble and fun like the Mini, but more powerful and more spacious. It’s my favorite car..so far.