Design Drive

How one artist steers her creative interests

Best Lesson Learned: Windham cautions against mimicking someone else’s design and says she has learned to stay true to her vision of the product, working to make sure that it reflects the needs of the customer base. She says, “You may think it’s advantageous to copy a designer’s style that is receiving praise or accolades for their work. This may be a missed opportunity to add value to the product.”
Most drivers rarely give thought to the innovative car designers whose creativity and inspiration add excitement and enrich their driving experience. Crystal Windham, interior design director, passenger cars, at General Motors Co., is one such talent who integrates beauty and style with the car company’s trademark function and engineering to create interior designs that customers notice—and love.

Responsibilities: Leads a group of designers, sculptors, and engineers who create the shape and overall environment of the vehicle. Windham’s team impacts all surfaces the driver sees, touches, and uses within General Motors’ Chevrolet and Buick passenger vehicles. Her team begins by sketching freehand and brainstorming ideas of how the interior will look. Throughout a series of reviews with design leadership and other departments, a selection is made and Windham’s team will translate the design into a sculpted 3-D model using clay.

Learning on the Job: Windham’s career at General Motors began as an associate creative designer. She was later promoted to creative designer then lead designer. In 1997 she accepted an international assignment in RÜsselsheim, Germany, which broadened her understanding and insight of interior and exterior car design, as well as gave her a greater awareness of design nuances and cultural differences. Each position and opportunity enhanced her qualifications for the next step and increased her design knowledge, skill set, and expertise.

Execution: Each aspect of design is an integral part of the entire process. “As lead designer, for example, your design may be chosen for the next generation of interior of a Chevrolet. You are therefore responsible for guiding the project from conception to production with a team,” explains Windham, who was recently tasked with redesigning the next generation of Chevrolet Malibus. Key to executing a successful design includes understanding the vehicle being replaced, branding, and competitive placement. She says, “It’s important to remain true to each brands’ character and design heritage. A vehicle is a second home. As such, it’s important that it’s both comfortable and user-friendly.” It’s essential that the designers consider what the vehicle wants to be in the market and to its customers, she insists.

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