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[Herald Interview] ‘To me, a car is just one of many designs’

BMW interior designer Kim Nury says freshness was key to winning design competition for new 3 series

Not all automotive designers are typical “car guys” well versed in the history of cars and models on the street.

Because Kim Nury, an automotive interior designer at BMW’s Munich headquarters, definitely does not fit that stereotype. 

“A car is, to me, just one of many designs. I do not have an extensive knowledge about cars or know A to Z about different models -- I do not drive -- but cars are like what I play with as if I’m in a game finding solutions to producing one,” said Kim during an interview with The Korea Herald at BMW’s Gangnam Kolon showroom. 

BMW interior designer Kim Nury (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
BMW interior designer Kim Nury (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Kim is one of a handful of Asian designers who work on the German automakers’ designs. She is part of a team of around 20 members in charge of overall interior design. 

Last year, Kim also won an interior design contest for the new 3 Series compact sedan, held within the multinational automaker, after six months of arduous competition between 30 BMW designers from Munich and satellite studios in Los Angeles and Shanghai.

“It wasn’t that I tried to make my design more Asian to stand out. Growing up and having learned art in Korea, people at the headquarters appreciated the freshness of my work and maybe felt my design was different compared to those from other designers born and raised in Europe,” said the 35-year-old designer.

“I put all my efforts to create design that can incorporate BMW’s DNA, what BMW wants and how BMW wants to be identified with the new design language,” Kim added. 

BMW’s 3 series is one of the best-selling sport sedans in the world. But different countries have a whole range of customers with different design preferences. Therefore, it is impossible to satisfy all potential 3 series customers. 

According to Kim, for her latest new 3 series, she focused on making almost everything inside the car slimmer or at least appear slimmer. 

“When a thick, wide dashboard blocks the front area of the driver’s seat, the sight gets very tight and narrow. The narrower the dashboard gets, the wider the car’s interior looks. Going compact, slimmer and narrower is part of the growing trend in the automotive industry,” she said. 

Kim only decided to become an automotive interior designer after graduating from university. 

She had originally dreamt of becoming a spaceship designer, based on her interest in aerospace, spaceships and science-fiction movies. 

“But one thing became clear: I wanted to do design that can receive consumer feedback,” said Kim. 

“In preparing to enroll in the Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences in Germany (to become an automotive interior designer), I not only studied language but also took a six-month-long intensive course that is for automotive mechanics and obtained a mechanics certificate, to know cars better,” Kim said.

At BMW’s Munich headquarters, interior and exterior design teams are the only groups that obtain work through competitions. It is because the company wants to pick the best design for the production of its cars, through monthslong comparison of designs from dozens of designers. 

“For the new 3 series, the competition took four months to determine two finalists. Starting from handing in the sketch to creating 3D digital mockups, the last stage of the design competition involved creating one-to-one scale samples in clay, to better access the actual volume and analyze the realistic feel of a car,” said Kim. 

As the design competition aims to produce an actual vehicle, not a concept car, Kim worked closely with engineers from other teams, such as technical engineers and the ergonomics teams, considering every detail for drivers’ comfort. 

Kim said she may be a novice when it comes to automobile lingo, but the “newness” that she brought to the design appears to have worked.

“The other final contestant was a veteran interior designer who made the i3 production interior, with decadelong experience in the field. But when it comes to design, freshness is more critical than a designer’s know-how or technique,” said Kim. 

“My priority in my design is to make drivers feel cozy and protected inside the car. Designers do sometimes want to show off bold lines and fancy designs, but it is necessary for an interior design to offer a protective, comfortable feeling for drivers.”

The interior of BMW’s new 3 series (BMW Korea)
The interior of BMW’s new 3 series (BMW Korea)

Now entering her eighth year in BMW as an interior designer, Kim says her biggest concern is to maintain a fresh perspective on top of being updated about the latest trends. 

“Most designers accumulate their knowledge and know-how as they age, but for cars, the latest trend must be applied to the latest model and the interior design, which gets harder as you get older. That’s why I try to go to design fairs and scan through fashion magazines to learn more and refresh my design sense,” she said. 

In the future, Kim said she would like to try out more versatile designs, such as making a car without a dashboard or putting an organic light-emitting diode screen on the windshield. 

“It does not necessarily have to be a car for me. If I have a chance, I want to design an airplane or spaceship. To me, all sorts of design feel equally interesting and attractive.”

By Kim Da-sol (