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Karim Habib leads the design team of one of the most successful brands in the automotive industry, BMW. We invited him to SAP headquarters in Walldorf, Germany to give an SAP Design Talk. Habib was kind enough to give us some insight into the car design process as well as into how designers and engineers work together at BMW. This written interview complements the video interview below.


SAP: Is design still about form following function?

KARIM HABIB: I think “form follows function” is still valid today, but it is much more complex than that. In addition to form following function there is a certain level of emotion you get through the experience of a product. And that is something we need to design as well.

You have a degree in engineering as well as in design. Does that help you in your collaboration with engineers?

The relationship between a designer and an engineer is the key to success for good design. There is to me no other single more important aspect – especially when it comes to car design. If you do not have good engineering that gives you good proportions, you cannot do good design. As convinced as I am about the importance of a good designer in the process of car design, a good engineer is essential. You cannot separate one from the other. And for us at BMW this dialog between the two is so important. You cannot do good design without engineers that support design. I believe that is the key to success at BMW; we have great engineers that understand what we need to make good-looking products. And at the same time a good designer has to understand what an engineer needs to make a car that is ergonomic, safe, and fun to drive. Both have to work together, and if they manage to do it well, then you get a good product.

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You seemed to be obsessed with details. Why are details so important?

I believe the attention to detail in design really is something that you perceive over time. You don’t quite understand it right away, but you feel it. It’s like seeing something out of the corner of your eye. You know if it is there or not. Attention to detail is the same thing. I also personally believe that today most people have a very, very alert visual sense through all of the imagery that we get every day and through all of the products we experience. I think that people are much better educated visually than they were generations ago. So they perceive these things much more accurately than in the past.

I think you can often feel quickly if something works or not. And often it’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but I believe it’s essential to good design.

What advice would you give to SAP’s designers?

What I would recommend is what I tell my team as well. As a designer you have to understand what the engineer or developer wants to do, and how he can do it. You have to help him make a better product. On the other hand, it’s very important for a designer to stand for what he believes in and work together with the engineers or developers to achieve a better product. I believe that the passionate, ambitious, creative engineer wants that as much as the designer does.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I’ve been doing this job for many years now, and somehow I seem to find something new every time I design a car. When a car is well proportioned and I see the finished product on the road at a certain angle and in a certain light and it just looks good, that’s an amazing feeling. But sometimes there are moments in the process when I notice that we have managed to have a breakthrough and create something totally new. I love that because it is a complete surprise. That’s the most gratifying part of my job.

Our last question is a bit mischievous, but we are going to ask it anyway. What is your favorite BMW?

The most sincere answer to your question is that it is usually the next one that we do, because every time I feel that we can do better and get better. So my favorite one is the next one.

Karim, thank you so much for coming to SAP today and taking time from your schedule for this interview!

Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

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Impressions from Habib’s SAP Design Talk on June 23, 2016. (Left, Habib speaking with SAP’s Chief Design Officer, Sam Yen, and Christoph Behrendt, Senior Vice President Industry and Application Innovation at SAP.)

The SAP Design Talks regularly bring leaders from the international design scene to SAP. The sessions are held on a large stage for an internal audience of employees at various SAP locations around the globe.

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