Living Legacy: DesignworksUSA


 The creative team at DesignworksUSA constantly examines the definition of luxury, and Aspegren feels that luxury is slowly changing from what it once was.

Designing a product that perfectly caters to the message of the brand and the needs of a customer is both an art and a science. With top-tier clients like Aerovironment, Boeing Business Jets, Embraer, HP, Microsoft, Pilatus, and Zeydon, BMW Group DesignworksUSA definitely knows a thing or two about design. In fact, DesignworksUSA is one of the only firms that designs for both product and transportation companies, specializing in life and leisure, infotainment, travel, cars, and motorcycles.

Founded in 1972, DesignworksUSA humbly began in a garage in Malibu with only three designers. The firm was acquired by the BMW Group in 1995 and now has studios in Los Angeles, Munich, and Singapore, where they design everything from yachts and jets to shavers and strollers. DesignworksUSA employs more than 145 designers, researchers, strategists, modelers, engineers, technicians, and materials specialists in North America, Europe, and Asia.

After the extremely successful launch of the Embraer Phenom 100 and 300, Brazillian company Embraer, one of the largest aircraft manufacturers in the world, appointed DesignworksUSA to another major design undertaking. Its latest project, a midsized jet named the Legacy 500 for Embraer, is headed up by Creative Director Magnus Aspegren. Aspegren and his team forwent the traditional open cylindrical appearance of jet interiors, trying to create an interior with individual rooms and spaces. “Chairs are more contoured to fit your body,” says Aspegren. “The table is folded up and can be unfolded at the right height. Internet connectivity is also important; two people can use their laptops facing each other, which is important for a business jet.”

Aspegren has an extensive background in the field of design, previously working in airport lounge interiors, industrial aircraft design, and textiles, as well as architectural design and commercial and residential buildings. Growing up in Europe and having the opportunity to attend schools in both Europe and the U.S. also contributed to Apergen’s passion for design.

Aspegren finds that designing aircraft interiors is both challenging and rewarding. “It’s constant problem solving because you’re in a small space for a long time,” he says. He explains that DesignworksUSA’s motto is “from lifesaving to lifestyle,” ensuring the highest level of safety to passengers in the premium cars, jets, and yachts they design.

Despite the current dip in the world economy, Aspegren has not noticed too many major changes within the private aviation industry. “We were constantly finding ways to save, even when fuel was cheap; you can go further, save waste, and make it efficient and elegant at the same time.” DesignworksUSA has ongoing client relationships, so the only real difference they have noticed over the past few years is the length of time it takes to get a project off the ground. “There is more due diligence,” Aspegren says. “The lead-time and cycle was shorter before. Every corporation wants to make sure that they are putting their money in the right place.”

The fact that DesignworksUSA crafts their jets more efficiently than most design firms is a major contributor to their high level of success and customer satisfaction. “Everybody is trying to become more efficient to please as many potential buyers as possible,” explains Aspegren. “We try to create a baseline for aircraft manufacturers. We create it to be produced more than once—not a one-off.” Although some customization is available (for example, color, interior, and metal trim options), less meticulous customization options allow the company to deliver their jets to purchasers within 12 months, instead of the standard three to four year wait.

The creative team at DesignworksUSA constantly examines the definition of luxury, and Aspegren feels that luxury is slowly changing from what it once was. “It is moving away from the opulent,” explains Aspegren. “Opulence is not really working anymore. Real luxury doesn’t reveal itself all at once, and new buyers have a different idea of luxury. Luxury is the seamlessness of function and serenity. It’s about having your own space, having a quiet space, checking your email.”

The Legacy 500 is the epitome of this new kind of luxury, as it was created using cues from men’s couture and men’s suits. When breaking down the men’s suit, the style of the cut represents the interior architecture of the aircraft; the quality of the fit provides the comfort and the function; the quality of the materials and fabrication give the tactility; and the attention to detail is the luxury beneath the surface. Easily updated accessories such as cuff links and ties represent similar parts of the interior, which provide customers the opportunities to personalize aircraft without a substantial change.

It is also important for Aspegren and his team to dream big about the future. DesignworksUSA must anticipate what people are going to want, and then figure out how to produce it in the most efficient way. DesignworksUSA partners with market research companies, resulting in an internally circulated newsletter with social, technological, and political news, plus trends and information on the latest products. This ensures that employees have a thorough understanding of not only what people currently want, but what they will want in years to come. “DesignworksUSA has a real understanding of what people will want in 10 to 14 years,” notes Aspegren. “We have to constantly plan ahead. It takes a whole other thinking pattern.”

The Embraer Legacy 500 launched in September 2007 at The National Business Aviation Association’s 60th Annual Meeting & Convention. It is scheduled to enter service in late 2012, and will cost roughly $20 million.