January 21, 2009
GM Designer Talks Economy, Creative Interiors
As automakers continue to showcase the latest eco-friendly, hybrid, and electric cars at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, many are hoping for a comeback year.
Reports indicate that auto executives expect the industry to be hit by a wave of consolidation and even bankruptcy amid an extreme drop in global sales and financial problems at The Big Three auto companies.
One auto designer continues to focus on the positives, keeping the gears rolling in her post as General Motor’s director of North American passenger car design. Crystal Windham, the first black female to hold the position, talked with BlackEnterprise.com about her new role, promoting creativity and innovation.
BlackEnterprise.com: What are your main duties as head of interior design for the company’s global midsize car, compact car, and small car?
Crystal Windham: Interior design really establishes a relationship with the customer. The exterior attracts you to the car, but you have to live inside of it. That’s what my team focuses on– creating a second home. Like interior decorating, interior designers focus on the colors, textures, storage areas, lighting, stitching across the dashboard, instrument panel (IP), doors, and seats.
As design director, I lead a team of designers, engineers, and sculptors to create an interior vision for the vehicle. A key part of my job is creating a creative environment to create amazing interiors. Then help the team set a design vision and intent. We have to make sure the interior is brand appropriate — that every element reflects what the brand stands for. Then, working with engineers, manufacturing, and marketing, we ensure the design intent is carried through to the final product…which sounds easy, but it’s quite a balancing act.
With the current economic climate, how will the design of new GM vehicles play into improving the company’s financial outlook?
Design plays a critical role. As a designer, we work three to four years in the future. It’s important to stay focused right now and be as innovative and creative as we can be.
We are leading in technology. The Chevrolet Volt is reinventing the automobile. As designers, we embrace technology and make it user-friendly. With the Volt, especially, you have to make it easy to understand — unique enough so the driver knows it’s something different and new, but familiar enough so they can operate it. It has to be flowing, harmonious, and inviting. The entire approach to the Volt is new — definitely a new design era where we see a balance between technology and design. Even though I have not worked on the Volt, all of us at GM Design are excited and inspired by it.
Are there any models that will provide practicality, creativity, and cost-effective design elements for drivers?
Yes. The Saturn Aura and Chevy Malibu are two great examples of vehicles currently available where we had direct balance between creativity and cost effectiveness.
As an interior designer, we have to understand what the customer needs are.