Designed For Performance

Black auto designers set the standard for some of the most popular--and stylish--cars on the road

to Ford and was hired in 1999. The creativity Lucas has displayed in Ford’s Dearborn, Michigan, design studio has found its way into the interiors of the 2001 Explorer and the last Z3 Escort.

Title: Lead product designer
Company: General Motors
Latest Project: Currently working on designs for future Saturn products.
At General Motors, interior elements of the latest Chevrolet Impala and the four-door Saturn were dreamed up in part by Crystal Windham.

A seven-year GM employee and Detroit native, Windham knows of only two other women of color working in her profession.

A late bloomer by designer standards, Windham never thought she had artistic talent until a 10th-grade teacher saw some fashion and hair-design sketches she’d drawn. She was directed toward the Center for Creative Studies, where an instructor introduced her to auto design.

“It was a challenge, so I went for it,” says Windham, who regularly visits Detroit-area public schools to introduce black girls to car design. “They need to see someone in that position and be able to ask questions. Young girls aren’t exposed to the field early enough.”

In addition to creating the freshest designs, Windham keeps close tabs on the work of top furniture designers, stoking her creativity.

“I try to put myself in the mind of the customer,” Windham explains. “When I’m creating a vision, I keep in mind that there are
engineering and manufacturing constraints to deal with, but I try to let my creativity flow.”

The best car designers expose themselves to the many facets of art. “They’re open-minded and have a willingness to look at artistic ideas, regardless of where they come from,” she adds.

Title Executive director of Corporate Brand Character Center
Company: General Motors
Latest Project: Currently conceptualizing and developing new vehicles for GM’s North American brands.
The dean of black auto designers, General Motors’ Ed Welburn followed a career path eerily similar to Gilles’. When Welburn was just 2 years old, his parents would ask him to draw pictures of cars for their amusement. A Howard University graduate who majored in product design and sculpture, Welburn was 11 when he wrote GM for advice on what courses a prospective auto designer should take. The human resources representative who answered his letter was still there when Wellburn was hired.

Now in his 29th year with GM, Welburn directs the automaker’s Corporate Brand Center. A design team of 50 people work for Welburn, who’s in charge of developing new concepts for GM, as well as creating the company’s show cars.

Welburn has consistently sought to enlist more blacks in the business, and has served as a mentor to young black designers at GM. One designer who benefited from Welburn’s tutelage is Dave Smith, 37, now the chief designer for GM’s Saturn division.

“When you look at the marketplace and you look at how our customers are changing, it’s important that we have a team that is sensitive to, and understands, our customers,” says Welburn. “There’s a certain texture, a certain flair, that black designers at GM have brought to their work,” adds the

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