Interview with DesignWorks Erik Goplan

Writer Collins Reiter with Erik Goplan at the LA Auto Show with his winning X3 design.

Writer Collins Reiter with Erik Goplan at the LA Auto Show with his winning X3 design.

BMW had several new cars to showcase at this year’s LA Auto Show, one of them being the newly redesigned 2011 X3.  The new X3 has the same feel consumers and enthusiasts have come to appreciate about the X series, however, this model boasts a more rugged look, effortlessly blending utilitarianism and luxury. The new exterior comes courtesy of a DesignWorksUSA contest.  GoTryke west coast contributor Collins Reiter spent some time at the show catching up with the contest winner, gifted DesignWorks designer Erik Goplen. Collins Reiter: What influences your perspective on design and can you give me a couple of examples of that? Erik Goplen: It has less to do with other cars.  It’s more fashion, architecture and music as it relates to people and interaction around that.  I’m an avid car enthusiast, starting from being eleven and building my own soap box cars, to mini bikes, to collecting classic cars. I guess architecture, fashion and BMW products. CR: What is your process?  Do you sketch by hand or use the computer software programs? EG: I usually start by hand, small point, and then from that aspect, scan it in, get it into photoshop, do some computer modeling around it loosely myself, but usually give it on to the modelers.  Then, as soon as possible, get it into a clay model.  A scale model I really enjoy.  We started that way on the X3, in a scale model, and it slowly came to life in that way.  It’s pretty amazing.

The newly redeisgned 2011 X3

The newly redeisgned 2011 X3

CR: What new materials have you introduced on the new X3?  Ws this an exterior or an interior design?

EG: It was exterior.  It’s trying to bring a lot more quality to the surface, to what we touch and feel.  It’s pretty traditional to what we’ve used in the past.  The car is made up of many different components, steel, aluminum, different plastics.  With the engineering process, they’ll recommend which materials to use.  As far as bringing in a piece of chrome, or bright work on the bottom, I wanted to make that come across with more elegance and more visual excitement.  We worked hard to get the roof rail, which was launched in the X6.  The anodized metal rail was handled extra nicely.  It’s traditionally black and agricultural.  It was really an attempt to bring a lot more refinement through those materials, so less, more clear, optic.

CR: What is new about the X3 from a design perspective?

EG: Something I don’t want to overlook is there’s a lot more sculpture in the car.  i really wanted to bring X DNA to a new level again, separate it from our roadsters and sedans.  This has a lot more raw X DNA visible, meaning light and shadow.  We call it ‘chiseled muscles’.

CR: How did the competition itself work?

EG: We usually have quite a large starting point.  We have our Munich studio, then DesignWorks, and three other studios.  Usually with most projects about 20-30 designers are working on the competition.  It starts with just sketching and then gets funneled down to half or a little less.  Then, in the 3rd stage, ends up with about 6-7 designers.  Then we’re in full size models and then down to three and then down to one.  Every project is different.  This one we knew something about the X3, so it was 15 to start and the funnel was quicker.  Sometimes we’re doing new cars, where we don’t have a complete understanding of the segment, so we’ll make the book ends farther apart.

CR: Why do you think you won the internal competition?

EG: I think bringing back the essence of what X is about was very strong in the sketches.  It was very clearly not watered down.  It was very strong and I think bringing those aspects to the production gave us a pretty easy translation.  I felt really good about this proposal.  Sometimes it just feels like you’re on the right path.  It felt right this time around and it was very natural.

CR: What products have you been closely involved with at DesignWorks?

EG: I designed the last generation 3 series.  I started off with the four door, and then DesignWorks was purchased by BMW because they really felt strongly about what we had to offer.  Then, I quit DesignWorks and went to work for BMW for 12 years and then developed the coupe, the touring wagon and the convertible.  After that I worked on advance projects and started the Z4 roadster.  A lot of projects I really can’t discuss.  Then the X3 came along and its nice to have a balance between advanced design and production work because you can’t really share the advance stuff with the world for quite a while.  It’s always nice to be behind a project like the X3 and be able to bring stuff you hear and the feelings you have to that product, that is available to people in the marketplace.

CR: Can you explain how DesignWorks operates?

EG: We’re owned by BMW, but it’s still a consultancy.  I work in the automotive side as a creative director doing advance design and helping out with the day to day job.  DesignWorks also does a lot of product design, consumer electronics, medical equipment and transportation, i.e planes, trains, buses.  DesignWorks is a really nice melting pot of design culture and the products we do pretty much cover the world of opportunities.  It’s a cool place.  We’re pretty exclusive.  The automotive guys sit up in one area and do our own thing.  We do have cross-fertilization, but less on the car side.

CR: How did you get into design and have you always had a love of cars?

EG: Pretty much.  My mom is a piano teacher and my dad an architect, so as I mentioned, the influence of music and art have always been a part of my life.  I was about 8 when i designed my first car and it was this cheese wedge, plywood thing with a place to put a lunch bag.  My friend did the engineering and I did the styling.  It looked like an early Lamborghini in a very primitive sense.  From then on it was motorcycles, mini-bikes, go-karts.  My dad was never a car guy, but my uncles were, so somehow it was always in my blood and it was my dream.  I first went to California State University of Northridge for engineering.  My uncles were all mechanical engineers, but i realized right away I really didn’t like engineering or math, so I stumbled across industrial design.  It’s sketching and building models and i was really fascinated with that.  It was probably a year after starting that program I wanted to do cars.  The university made a program around us and hired guys from Arts Center and some other areas.  The program was built while I was there around a couple of key students.

CR: What was your pathway to DesignWorks?

EG: It was quite early on.  One of my classmates in college had managed to get an internship at DesignWorks.  That started the discussion, and then we had an instructor who we brought from Arts Center and he was actually the chief designer from DesignWorks.  He liked my work, so I was able to get an internship when I was 20 or so.  I got in really early on and the rest is history.  It’s been a great company.  I don’t want to say we’re a big, happy family, but it’s pretty close to that.  People care about the product and really put the product in the front.  The passion for the product is very important.

CR: What’s next for you?  I know you said you’re working on something you can’t talk about, but is there anything you can talk about?

EG: Right now supporting this car in any way possible.  We are looking forward to the new future propulsion technologies.  In 1991 I worked on one of our electric cars, the E2, so it been in the pipeline a long time at BMW.  Just a lot of amazing advance projects right now, which I really can’t talk about.  I’m happy to do an X car, but I look forward to doing more sports car related cars coming up in the future.  That’s about it.  Can’t really say too much about it.

CR: Any parting thoughts?

EG: I’m excited about this car.  It’s good to be here representing it and I can’t wait to put my mountain bike in the back and use it.

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