TIME BMW: A Company on the Edge

See Inside BMW’s Secret Design Lab

A rare look at what happens in one of the world's most important research and development centers

For decades, BMW has advertised its vehicles as “the ultimate driving machine.” The meaning of that phrase has started to slip. In an age of connected technology, ultimate driving machines automatically brake for their passengers in emergencies or beam content from mobile phones and tablets as much as they may accelerate quickly or handle nimbly.

That puts BMW, the world’s top-selling premium automaker by sales volume, in a difficult position. It must maintain its reputation for driving dynamics while also catering to changing consumer tastes—like better fuel efficiency and more advanced technology. And it is trying to do so with competitors like Audi and Mercedes-Benz nipping at its heals. Brands ranging from Toyota to Hyundai are also trying to sell more premium vehicles.

Last year, worldwide BMW sales rose 9.5% to 1.81 million cars, while Mercedes-Benz deliveries jumped 13% to 1.65 million vehicles. Volkswagen-owned Audi posted an 11% increase to 1.74 million cars. Global demand for premium cars has rebounded as the U.S. economy recovered from the recession and consumers in developing economies, such as China, continued to buy high-end products.

Harald Krueger, who took over as CEO after the group’s annual shareholders’ meeting on May 13, is trying to continue expanding BMW’s lineup while maintaining its profitability. As part of a strategy, partly overseen by the 49-year-old executive since late-2007, BMW has been aiming to make 30% more vehicles with the same number of workers while trying to reduce production costs per vehicle by raising economies of scale in components, drive systems and modules. Now, Krueger must do the same as cars grow more complex and fuel-efficient.

One of BMW’s little-known assets lies about an hour north of Los Angeles, in Newbury Park, Calif. Designworks, a consultancy owned by the German giant, is charged with designing future vehicles, exploring emerging technologies and experimenting with new materials, such as carbon fiber a major—and costly—part of BMW’s strategy to make its cars more fuel efficient in the future. In this video series, TIME looks at how BMW is trying to deal with the difficulties of a ever-more crowded, ever-changing market.

TIME Television

The Mad Men Title Sequence Is Eerily Similar to This LIFE Magazine Cover

LIFE Magazine April 21 1967 Cover
LIFE Magazine

The falling men on a 1967 LIFE cover seem to presage the falling man in the AMC show's opening credits

Analyzing the title sequence to Mad Men has become something of a sport for the show’s fans. Does the suited man hurtling toward earth foreshadow protagonist/anti-hero Don Draper’s literal death or his figurative demise? Does it echo the chilling photograph of a man who jumped from a burning World Trade Center tower? (Showrunner Matthew Weiner has said emphatically that it does not.) Whatever it represents, where did Imaginary Forces, the agency that produced the sequence, get the idea?

Here’s another idea: it’s now been pointed out that the design has many similarities to a 1967 LIFE Magazine cover, the first in a four-part series on “The Struggle To Be an Individual.” The cover, like Mad Men’s credits, features silhouetted men against the backdrop of a 1960s-era skyscraper. Both suggest a sense of helplessness, of ceding control to powerful forces beyond one’s self.

The Imaginary Forces team that produced the credits has spoken about some of the inspiration behind the design. Weiner initially approached them with the skeleton of an idea — a man walks into an office building, takes the elevator to the top and jumps — and they began developing storyboards. Those boards included a Volkswagen ad, movie stills and, as designer Steve Fuller told Print, “the design stew that’s been swirling around in our head over the last 15 years since we left college.”

Although a representative from AMC confirmed in an email to TIME that similarities between the LIFE cover and the title sequence are purely coincidental, the photo essay the cover advertises in many ways articulates the existential crises Draper faces in Mad Men. As an ad man, Draper sells access to an American dream he himself hasn’t entirely bought into. Even as he accumulates successes in the boardroom and the bedroom, the satisfaction never lasts longer than a few drags of a cigarette that might kill him anyway.

The ethos of the 1960s is, of course, omnipresent in Mad Men — and not just in its fastidious commitment to the furniture and fashions of the time. In post-WWII America, many Americans had settled into the comfort of corporate jobs that afforded them the same white picket fence and station wagon their neighbors boasted. Responding to that phenomenon, books like William H. Whyte’s The Organization Man, published in the mid-1950s, lamented how modern workers’ collectivist group-think ran in opposition to creativity and innovation. The sociological treatise The Lonely Crowd, which sits on the radiator in Don’s office, similarly observed that people’s yearning to understand their position as it compared to everyone else’s limited their potential for self-actualization.

The photos in “The Struggle To Be an Individual” suggest anonymity amidst this 1960s uniformity: an aerial view of an endless expressway, looping seemingly to nowhere; a housing development in which every unit looks identical; a geometry of office workers sitting row by row at the same typewriters, with the same hairstyles and the same stacks of paper.

“You can sign up for just about anything you want and it will be delivered with speed and polish,” one caption reads. “Everything you can get your hands on is worth having. The trick is in deciding what you want.” Draper, of course, can’t decide what he wants: the suburban life or the mistress in the city, the towering Manhattan skyline or the hazy skies and swimming pools of Los Angeles.

One caption, perhaps more than any other, seems to describe the journey Draper has undertaken as the series winds to a close. It accompanies the photograph of those looping Long Island expressways and dictates, almost like a meditation tape, how the driver might place himself in space and time:

Imagine yourself an astral body, streaking along, stable in the galaxy … before you know it, the unseen land will disappear behind you. Your turn will come to peel off, and home you’ll go, untouched by any weather.

TIME Innovation

Why the Next Leader of the U.N. Should Be a Woman

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. After 70 years of men in charge, the next leader of the U.N. should be a woman.

By Gillian Sorensen and Jean Krasno in the Washington Post

2. Here’s how to design a better Monday.

By Studio 360 and IDEO

3. What brought some cities back from the economic brink? Making peace with their suburbs.

By Nancy Cook in the National Journal

4. There’s an app to document and salvage Nepal’s cultural heritage.

By Annette Ekin at Al Jazeera

5. Elon Musk just made growing weed easier.

By Wes Siler in Gizmodo

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Design

Designer Who Created the Iconic ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas’ Sign Has Died

Tourists take pictures on Feb 12, 2009 in front of the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" neon sign in Las Vegas. Betty Willis, the woman who designed the iconic neon sign that has welcomed countless visitors to Las Vegas since 1959 has died.
Jae C. Hong—AP Tourists take pictures on Feb 12, 2009 in front of the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" neon sign in Las Vegas. Betty Willis, the woman who designed the iconic neon sign that has welcomed countless visitors to Las Vegas since 1959 has died.

Betty Willis was 91

Nevada graphic designer Betty Willis, who created the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign that became a globally recognized icon of hedonism, died Monday at age 91, according to the Neon Museum.

Her design, gifted to Las Vegas in 1959, is emblematic of Googie architecture, with its characteristic futuristic motifs. Although the sign is formally owned by the Young Electric Sign Co., its image remains perennially in the public domain, with reprints adorning all manner of Vegas memorabilia from coffee mugs to T-shirts.

“Visitors see the sign with the twinkle in it and know they’ve got a license to enjoy themselves,” former Las Vegas mayor Oscar B. Goodman told the New York Times in 2005.

Willis was brought up outside Las Vegas and worked at Western Neon in 1952, after attending school in Los Angeles in 1952. “We thought the town was fabulous, so we added the word,” she once said.

TIME Design

The Minions Get Their Very Own Color From Pantone

Pantone Minion Yellow
Pantone Pantone Minion Yellow

This is color that will make a lot of people 'Happy'

For the first time in three years, the Pantone Color Institute has revealed a new color — and it has some despicable origins.

“Minion yellow,” inspired by the tiny creatures from the Despicable Me franchise and the upcoming prequel Minions, is the latest addition to the company’s color matching system, which is used by designers and artists. The company says the color came about after Pharrell Williams, who sings the song “Happy” from the Despicable Me 2 film, first came up with the idea and the Pantone team worked with animators at Illumination Entertainment to nail down the specific shade of Minion yellow.

“Color is contextual and right now there is a desire for colors that are more vibrant and uplifting,” Pantone Color Institute vice president Laurie Pressman said in a statement about the new color. “This is especially the case with the yellows, so given the worldwide popularity of the Minions, it seemed only natural to name a color after a character for the first time in our history.”

Minions hits theaters on July 10.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 9

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The truth is, California doesn’t have a water problem. We all do.

By Steven Johnson in Matter

2. Uber isn’t selling rides. It’s selling data.

By Ron Hirson in Forbes

3. A blind scientist wants to reinvent how the vision-impaired ‘watch’ movies.

By Chris Colin in California Sunday

4. Cute little details may make an app “delightful,” but they’re crowding out thoughtful design.

By John Pavlus in Co.Design

5. These giant robot traffic signals/red-light cameras are actually making the streets of Kinshasa safer.

By Mark Hay in Good

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Money

See the Most Beautifully Designed Currencies From Around the World

From Costa Rica to Nepal, here is a selection of the most stunning bank notes in circulation

TIME technology

There Are Now Martini Glasses Designed for Space Travel

The designs for a space-friendly cocktail glass and drinking glass are seen from the Zero Gravity Cocktail Project kickstarter campaign.
Cosmic Lifestyle Corp The design for a space-friendly cocktail glass and drinking glass are seen from the Zero Gravity Cocktail Project kickstarter campaign

Houston, we have stemware

For the stylish space voyager, sucking liquids through a straw out of a foil bag is never going to cut it. But a new Kickstarter venture hopes to smarten things up by raising money to produce a zero-gravity-friendly martini glass.

Created under the Zero Gravity Cocktail Project, the glass is designed with a series of grooves that prevent the liquid inside from forming into a floating blob and instead guide it neatly towards the mouth.

“The glass is a stepping-stone to say that, Hey, this is possible, you can create these things for space,” Samuel Coniglio, COO of Cosmic Lifestyle Corp., the company designing the glass, says in a promotional video.

Cosmic Lifestyle is hoping that this new product can be the beginning of a wider project to create a lifestyle brand for anyone wanting to travel to space in style.

Presumably a zero-gravity cocktail shaker is on the drawing board next, or else nobody is going to get served their cosmic martini any time soon.

TIME the big picture

The One Thing That Makes Apple a Totally Different Company Now

Apple's focus on design means it's free to make all kinds of new products

In my 34 years of closely watching Apple, I’ve seen it go through plenty of life stages. For most of Apple’s life, it has been a technology company. But after Steve Jobs rejoined the company in 1997, it began to take on a new persona.

I met with Jobs on the second day he was back at Apple, during a very dark time in its history. When Jobs returned, Apple was in the red to the tune of $1 billion and only two months from bankruptcy. When I asked Jobs how he planned to rescue Apple, he told me the first thing he would do is take care of his core customers, meaning Mac owners using them for graphics design, desktop publishing and engineering.

But the second thing Jobs told me startled me: He said he would start focusing on industrial design. I remember scratching my head at his statement — I just couldn’t imagine how industrial design could save Apple. Of course, just a year later, Jobs introduced the candy-colored iMacs, forever changing what a personal computer could look like. Jobs then went on to make design a core tenet of Apple’s future, making the iPod, iPhone and iPad into sleek works of art, undoubtedly helping turn Apple into the behemoth it is today.

Apple Senior Vice President of Design Jony Ive was recently profiled by The New Yorker in a piece that made clear Apple’s focus on design has become a strategic piece of its mission. But even with Apple’s focus on design, I still consider it a tech company first and foremost. Still, a good friend of mine, Ben Thompson of Stratchery, recently wrote another excellent piece (subscription required) that puts Jobs’ 1997 comments to me into a new perspective.

“When I stated previously that Apple has always been a personal computer company, that is because Jobs believed so deeply in the potential of the computer to change people’s lives. If Ive, as this profile argues, now serves Jobs’ function as the soul of Apple, my characterization is surely obsolete: perhaps we need to think of Apple as a design company with a specialty in computers, not the other way around. And it’s much more plausible to imagine that Apple building a car.”

Thompson was primarily referring to rumors Apple might be working on a car, but his overall perspective is important. As Thompson writes, if Ive is now driving Apple, that could turn the company into a more design-focused firm free to create products outside its historical business model.

I still have trouble believing Apple is building an entirely new car instead of just working on car software. But if Apple’s top leadership has fully embraced industrial design, Apple could be free to create not only cars and watches, but anything that could be tied into Apple’s app and services ecosystem.

After more than three decades of understanding Apple by following its history, I have to admit that we could be witnessing the birth of a new Apple. For a lot of us, that means giving up our preconceived notions of what Apple is today in order to understand where it’s going tomorrow.

Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. and has been with the company since 1981, where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to many of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.

Read next: The Biggest Misconception About Apple

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Video Games

This Is the Incredible Game President Underwood Is Obsessed With in House of Cards Season 3

It's called Monument Valley and it's pretty great

Francis Underwood, Kevin Spacey’s Machiavellian character on the Netflix series House of Cards, has always allowed himself a few good video games. These have tended toward the violent, first-person-shooter variety. But in Season 3, which became available on the streaming service on Friday, a beautiful, somewhat esoteric indie game for mobile devices becomes a minor plot point.

That game is Monument Valley, created by UsTwo. The title—available here for Android and here for iOS— was ranked one of TIME’s 10 best games of 2014. Here’s a description of the game by its designers, part of which Spacey alludes to in the show:

In Monument Valley you will manipulate impossible architecture and guide a silent princess through a beautiful world. Monument Valley is a surreal exploration through fantastical architecture and impossible geometry. Guide the silent princess Ida through mysterious monuments, uncovering hidden paths, unfolding optical illusions and outsmarting the enigmatic Crow People.

Or as TIME’s reviewer put it: “Monument Valley celebrates non-Euclidean geometry, beautifully bizarre architecture and the art of silent storytelling. Combine royalty with optical trickery, trajectory-fiddling with bonsai pruning, aesthetic contemplation with tactile interaction and you wind up with something like designer ustwo’s delightful, enigmatic puzzler.” Worth checking out, no matter where you are on the road to world domination.

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