The past few decades have seen radical changes in how we live, move and transport ourselves, and there’s no sign of things slowing down. Fortunately, MINI knows how to convert the challenges this presents into opportunities to improve the world around us. Oh yes, this is more than just a pretty car
The coming decades are bound to bring a flurry of drastic transformations, as urban metropolises grow bigger and more congested, as gentrification increases, and as the winds of climate change continue to affect the planet. A new urban landscape is materialising, one that will force organisations to think about the world in new ways. For MINI, the renowned and unmistakable car brand, these global issues are being turned into opportunities for building a better, more humane world for everyone. And it’s not just about cars.
At MINI, problems are never really problems, but rather opportunities for change, for doing things differently, for building something better. This mindset has been deeply ingrained in the company’s outlook since the 1950s, when the designer of the first model, Alec Issigonis, had to turn a pressing socio-economic issue into an opportunity – and succeeded big time.
In the late 1950s, the Suez Crisis put huge pressure on fuel prices, resulting in major rationing around the world. In this environment, the often big and fuel-hungry cars were less than useful. Something had to be done, so Issigonis set about finding a solution that would revolutionise the world of automotive transportation: the MINI, a car that was small, fuel efficient and beautiful as hell. It quickly came to be regarded as a style icon, heralded for its good looks as much as its practicality – a creative design approach that has come to be at the core of the company. Naturally, the issues of our times are slightly different from the ones faced by Issigonis. What remains the same, however, is the company’s willingness to take action, to be part of shaping the world of tomorrow, whether that means designing innovative models (the company will premiere its first electric car in 2019) or finding new ways of addressing urban living. As always, it’s all about turning challenges into opportunities.
One initiative is A/D/O, whose name pays homage to Issigonis’s first design team: Amalgamated Drawing Office (ADO). The “new” A/D/O is a creative space in Brooklyn, New York, which MINI launched as a way of bringing together design-orientated people under the same roof. Made up of shared workspaces, studios, a design shop and a top-class restaurant, A/D/O has all the elements needed to initiate creative alchemy. And the people at A/D/O have indeed been creative. In Spirit of the City, an ongoing installation in the building’s courtyard, A/D/O is presenting a modular system of revolving mirrored columns that continuously produce dynamic compositions of movement, reflection, light and shadow, mirroring the activity and pace of city life. Linked to MINI’s objective to create emotionally anchored solutions for urban life, it explores the emotional and physical response individuals experience when navigating urban environments. For Nathan Poekert, director of marketing and communications at A/D/O, it’s also a way to engage the design community in a conversation around the future of urban living.
“Most of what we present at A/D/O poses a question or provocation that is intended to spark conversation,” he explains. “We don’t expect an installation to create solutions to things such as living and transportation on its own. Instead, we are excited to see how our design community reacts to what we present and how it may inspire their own work.”
The urban dynamics highlighted in Spirit of the City are just the tip of the iceberg for Poekert, who says we will see radical changes in terms of how we spend our day, where we spend it, and who we spend it with in the next 10-15 years. “Too much time is spent talking about the technologies of the future and not enough on evaluating the underlying needs of people and how those needs are changing,” he says. “Our future depends not just on what technologies are available but also the human values and principles that guide our implementation of those technologies. We believe that great design is critical to problem solving and think designers should have a seat at the table when solutions are being sought. The biggest shift we are trying to create is that great design can be the catalyst for change.”
In this way, MINI’s aim to let the changes in the world draw out its solutions and technologies, as well as allow great design to be a core part of moulding the way we live, is shared by Poekert and A/D/O. “What we are more interested in at A/D/O is the ‘future of design’, as in the role that creative fields will play in navigating all this uncertainty ahead,” he says. “Who are we empowering to make these changes? We believe it should be designers and design-driven companies. In making values-based decisions about future advancement, we see designers as the heroes of the future.”
To turn the challenges of tomorrow into design-driven opportunities, Poekert wants to unite global creative communities, expand A/D/O to multiple locations and build a strong online platform to link these parts together. He also wants to adopt MINI’s mindset of thinking about the world in wider terms, of coming up with global solutions that will benefit many people in different parts of the world.
The intention to connect visionary people through different initiatives and from different fields mirrors MINI’s own philosophy of thinking outside the box and the company’s willingness to build bridges, to think about urban life in broader terms, and its ambition to shape the future, instead of letting the future shape us. And it’s not only about making efficient, attractive cars – its focus includes a holistic, integrated perspective of building urban landscapes in which people can flourish.
The issues facing the world today might be different, but just like it wasn’t 60 years ago, MINI won’t be fazed. Instead, the company will seek to turn these challenges into opportunities, to find ways of building a more humane and emotionally sound world, not just by continuing to design innovative, good-looking cars, but by being an important force in shaping the world of tomorrow. It’s a bold ambition, but if there’s one company that has shown it can transcend and alter the boundaries of possibility, it’s MINI. What we’re seeing now is just the beginning. We’re in for a ride!
Words by Petter Bladlund
Special thanks to MINI
#Featured Image The revolutionary design of an early Mini
#1, #2 and #3 The mirrored columns and workspace at A/D/O
#4 Alec Issigonis
#5 and #6 The exteriors of A/D/O, Brooklyn