Discover the team behind BMW's first ever visual identity for the new BMW iX's Intelligent Personal Assistant.

The new BMW iX sees the Intelligent Personal Assistant visually brought to life for the first time in BMW history. The BMW development team gives some insight into the development of this visual design. As body language specialist Joe Navarro, who worked for the FBI for 25 years, explains, the way body language works and what insights it provides are important for visualising artificial characters.


The new generation of the Intelligent Personal Assistant steps unobtrusively but effectively into your field of vision: Glowing particles on the screen are brought to life and can communicate emotions by addressing the driver. This minimalistic design was selected from thousands of different ideas created in BMW Design Development.

“The crucial point in this project was the realisation that we don’t have to approach the Intelligent Personal Assistant from the perspective of technology or design, but of real people and their non-verbal communication,” says Jessica Covi, Experience Design Lead at BMW and member of the Intelligent Personal Assistant development team. “From that moment on, our focus was on three-dimensional motion design.”


The core character of the Intelligent Personal Assistant was inspired by a new age Sherlock Holmes à la Benedict Cumberbatch and James Bond’s modern-day Q (Ben Whishaw): “Always brilliant and determined, but with a grin,” Covi says.

During the first in-house experiments, the team used a 3D Kinect video camera to film research participants answering questions using body language. “We also had a white animated box that moved inwards and tracked and copied the body language of real people – one of many inspirations for the Intelligent Personal Assistant,” Covi explains.


This kind of behavioral mirroring develops a subtle effectiveness. This is also confirmed by prominent body language expert Joe Navarro, who worked as an agent and supervisor with the FBI for 25 years.

He has a reasonable explanation for this: “There are a number of behaviors that convey that we feel comfortable. The brain is binary: We feel either comfortable or uncomfortable. Humans had to develop that way – otherwise, it would be too complicated to raise our babies. When we feel comfortable, our gestures tend to be softer, our facial muscles relax. We tend to smile more, turn towards the person we’re talking to, touch more with our palms.


The BMW Design Team is also increasingly focused on this human behavior system. “We’re moving towards a new era of experience design dealing with the aspect of humanising technology,” says Covi. “Because technology is even better when it surprises you.”

The BMW User Experience designers analyse every aspect of the so-called customer journey to find out what is needed, how and when. BMW drivers and their passengers should feel comfortable at all times. That includes the need for interactions with the Intelligent Personal Assistant to work intuitively and naturally. “It’s based on behavioral patterns that don’t have to be learned from scratch, but are already mastered,” Covi explains. “That’s how we create a system with a simple structure and inspiring sequence that invites you to learn more.”


Body language specialist Navarro is well versed in visualising virtual characters, having consulted on animated characters for major film studios like Pixar. “The closer we get to the human experience, the better it is,” he says.

Explaining the challenges that lie in animation. “When I’m emphasising something, I raise my eyebrows – a behavior that defies gravity. Artificial intelligence often can’t grasp a thing like that, nor the reward system between humans. For example, when we’re getting along well with each other and enjoying each other’s company, we reward each other with a very slightly relaxed face. Our pupils dilate and contract. The closer you can get to those kinds of body movements, even the subtle ones, when visualising artificial characters, the more convincingly you can mimic human behavior.”


If one understood that people don’t strive for perfection, but for psychological well being, it would be easier to win them over to a cause. The  BMW Design Team took this into account in their considerations for the visual design of the Intelligent Personal Assistant – although they arrived at these findings in other ways. California psychology professor Albert Mehrabian, for example, focuses on the significance of verbal and non-verbal messages in emotional communication and has been an important source of inspiration for the BMW designers.


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