Sustainability is everything. A visit to Annette Baumeister, Head of Color & Material Design at BMW.

Conference room 008: stone-gray floor, functional tables. A vending machine is humming in the background. Then, suddenly, Annette Baumeister shoots a half-sentence at the room that changes everything, making it lighter, more human: "Border red." Since 2019, the textile designer has been heading the color & material design department at BMW. "When we say 'border red,' it means that the color shade must not transcend this level of red, it may perhaps be a little brighter or a bit more yellow. That's how we describe our prototype." The Muenster born designer stands behind every color shade and every surface. Quality, she says, is what matters most, that fine line which sustainable materials, patterns and colors balance upon to unfold their maximum effect. Or their minimal effect, for that matter. Because the interior design of the future is characterized by three things: "reduction, a calming effect and a focus on the essential." No distraction whatsoever. At the same time, fabrics and surfaces are to blend into one whole where everybody feels comfortable. Then there are all the small requirements such as wear and tear or lightfastness, technical regulations, standards and cultural aspects, which all need to be reconciled and harmonized under one umbrella vision. Hence reduction. It helps create a vehicle for a complex world, the designer explains.

Structures, reflections, color nuances, material – inspiration details for Annette Baumeister.

But where is the disruption that is taking hold of the entire industry? The change that leaves no component untouched and that is being pushed by new engines, new sales models, and semi-autonomous driving? Annette Baumeister laughs out: "As designers, we obviously can always identify opportunities and seek to change the world. Particularly with material and color design, we strive to create a space that people feel comfortable in." Disruption, she adds, happens in the material: Annette Baumeister wants to "rethink it." And sustainability is fundamental in the process. Some visionary fabrics are already in place, from fungal foams to coloring through bacteria and 3D direct print on textiles. The balance is key, not only with regard to the tastes of the audience. Aesthetics and sustainability need to go together. "And it's my job to make that happen."

As designers, we obviously can always identify opportunities and seek to change the world. Particularly with material and color design, we strive to create a space that people feel comfortable in.

Blue crystal - memento from Annette Baumeister's time as a Studio Head at Designworks Shanghai

Materials, patterns and surfaces merge into a jungle where the untrained eye would get lost. Every environment needs a focal point, a heavyweight. Annette Baumeister sets out with a color scheme and groups everything else around it. The same goes for surfaces and materials. "One element has to step forward and say, 'It's me. I am the most innovative material.' If I can get that right, the rest will fall into place." And so a three-dimensional puzzle of colors and shapes emerges. It takes a calm and steady hand to do this, but there is no real calm. "As a matter of fact, we are constantly being challenged," the material expert explains, "We sometimes have very little time to be creative, to balance everything out carefully and to think strategically. It takes a whole different kind of calm and intensity to do that. But then, challenge is the mother of invention." She and her team have relied heavily on creativity in recent years, she said, and that in turn unleashes more creativity. Like a chain reaction across new materials and manufacturing processes. Does it take a special environment in a hip, cool part of the town to be creative? "My dream has always been a light-flooded studio in a backyard, with creaky wooden floors and a studio dog. And yet, we can be creative in this space, too." The design studio offers standardized light that reveals even the most subtle nuances of color, for example, a black that turns out even a tad more blue than the other black. "The first time, I was thinking, 'What are my colleagues talking about?’ I was still very new to the company, and then one of them said that this was way too green, and the other one said that this was way too red. For an instant, I panicked. Then you start to see what the others see." Does she have a perfect sense of color, like the perfect pitch? "I think it's pretty good," she replies. Our time is almost up. Annette Baumeister looks around the conference room, shaking her head ever so slightly. As she starts to walk away, she says, "We also don't always have all the answers," and adds, "Maybe that's the ultimate disruption."

The interview with Annette Baumeister first appeared in mcbw mag 2023.