Karim Habib has been in charge of BMW Design since June 2012. The Lebanon-born Canadian heads a team of designers and developers working to constantly enhance and redevelop the designs of current and future BMW models.
A sophisticated designer who grew up in five countries with vastly different cultures, he is committed to the idea of evolving design and is always striving to expand his range of skills. To this end, he doesn’t merely apply himself to his immediate field; he also appreciates the more technical aspects of his work.
The art of continuous self-improvement is one he developed early on as a member of the Canadian U-20 national fencing team and has put to use in various roles throughout his career. Apart from a short absence of two years, he has been part of the BMW Design team since 1998.
A passion for design
The desire to give expression to his own aesthetic ideas came early to Habib. Even as a child, he revealed his fondness for automobiles, enjoying nothing more than sketching cars and even creating his own marque, complete with a range of different models.
Habib studied mechanical engineering at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and then focused on what would become his true passion – automotive design. He did postgraduate study at one of the most prestigious talent hotbeds for the automobile industry, the Art Center College of Design in Switzerland, also spending time at its US branch when the European arm shut down.
While working on a project there supervised by a tutor from the BMW Group, the budding designer had the opportunity to see at first hand the independent mentality of BMW Design. He was encouraged to question the design process itself and impressed his mentors with his daring and innovative work. Consequently, after finishing his studies, he started working for BMW’s Interior Design team, followed by spells in the Exterior Design and Advanced Design departments.
Design as a way of shaping your world
Consciously designing things is a means of expressing the desire to change the world according to his own values, Habib says. This implies a close examination of both the product’s environment and each of its aspects, since these factors in turn have a decisive influence on the way he approaches his own environment.
A pivotal moment in his career was the development of the BMW Concept CS show car, which was masterminded by him and unveiled in 2007. For this concept study of a four-door Gran Turismo, the convex/concave bodywork, so-called flame surfacing, was toned down – a new departure that influenced subsequent models of the BMW fleet.
Questioning fundamental factors continues to play an important role in successful development for Habib. He believes the evolution of design styles to be indispensable for long-term success, since only those who constantly challenge and reinvent themselves can survive and keep on improving.
In order to ensure this happens, in his capacity as head of BMW Design he aims to implement a system that actively supports creative freedom. Moreover, he places great value on involving everybody engaged in the design process, from the actual designers to the engineers. He sees a comprehensive understanding of all employees’ roles as one of the keystones of successful design results and can call on the technical expertise from his mechanical engineering studies to help him in this.
On the personal side
Habib favors a pared-down design style. He is an admirer of the work of Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec and Patricia Urquiola, as well as the architectural designs of Rem Koolhaas, Herzog & DeMeuron and Zaha Hadid. He is particularly fascinated by their intellectual involvement with their own work. The minimalism of Mark Rothko’s works is also a source of inspiration for him.
In the video above he shares further insight into his views on design and what it means to him, whilst piloting a 2002tii from BMW’s heritage fleet in the streets of Munich.