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The Hofmeister Kink: A Lasting BMW Design Detail


Sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest differences. They can carry powerful associations that aren’t immediately obvious. Some good examples bmw-logoare: How your computer displays text, The $300 Million Button, and The difference a headline makes.

The idea that a detail can make a big difference has always been fascinating to me.  I’ve also always been really fascinated by cars and automotive design.  So a few months ago when I saw that Jalopnik named “The Hofmeister Kink” the number one design element of all time I was interested. I had never heard of it before and I couldn’t see how it could make much of a difference at all in the overall design of a car.

Below is my attempt to figure out what this detail is and how it can make a difference.


What is the Hofmeister Kink?
The Hofmeister kink is a small design feature of BMWs.  It is the name for the small cutout of the rear side windows on the C-pillar of the car. Rather than having the rear side window extend all the way down as might be expected, it angles back toward the front of the car. It is named after the legendary Director of Design at BMW, Wilhelm Hofmeister. It first appeared on the 1961 BMW 1500. You can see this on the 1500 in the image below.  (Circled in blue)

hofmeister-kink-bmw-1500

The Hofmeister kink has become a signature design element of all BMWs.  BMW claims that it “subtly highlights” that the cars are rear-wheel drive.  Since it first appeared, the kink has appeared on every BMW manufactured. Below is the C-Pillar of all of the BMW “Compact Exec” type cars since the 1500. (The modern model is the 3-Series)

hofmeister-kink-history

During that time BMW has become synonymous with quality; the 3-Series is a legend and has been named to the Car and Driver Ten Best list every year since 1992.  As expected, the Hofmeister kink is now appearing on all kinds of cars.  My hypothesis was that it would appear most on cars that were meant to seem luxurious, or high-end. Naturally, it wouldn’t appear on a Mercedes, being rivals with BMW and I would be surprised to see it on any car or make with a strong design history.

Conclusion
This seemingly inconsequential detail has developed into a key theme of automotive design.  It is clear that automotive designers work within a set of guidelines they understand well, knowing how the details impact public perception. This aspect of design is certainly not only relegated to cars, but is carried through other design mediums as well.  Web design is no exception.  There are features of a site that can be used to instantly exude professionalism and sophistication.

I wanted to take this time to turn it over to the readers and get your thoughts on your favorite subtle design techniques, only noticeable to a very discerning eye, that instantly convey a level of beauty to the site’s visitors.  What elements come to mind?

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