Business
8:00 am
Sun January 15, 2012

A GM Designer's First Car? The Cadillac XDS

Originally published on Sun January 15, 2012 7:29 pm

For a car designer, there's probably no scarier time than the auto show. And there's probably no scarier auto show than the Detroit Auto Show. It's like report-card day for car designers, but there doesn't appear to be much that scares Christine Park, a senior creative designer with Cadillac.

She's very eager to show off the Cadillac XTS. Park led the design of the interior of the XTS — pretty impressive, since she's only 28 and graduated from design school just six years ago.

Park is also one of a small number of female designers in the car designer industry. "It's a very male-dominated field," she says, "so it's something that people don't expect."

Park, who's from the San Francisco Bay area, says she didn't expect this life for herself. She thought of being a fashion designer for a while. "I remember taking summer classes, like high school fashion classes. I loved it until I got a sewing machine and couldn't make a shirt," she says.

Luckily, she met a professor at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The professor showed Park some cars and described character lines, proportion, the wheel base and basic parts of car design.

"Up until that point, I had no idea that there was a designer behind a car, that there was an artist. That the car is an art," Park says. She thought, "Wow, are you telling me that I can utilize my artistic talent to create this? This machinery? This moving art?"

She ended up going to Art Center College of Design, interning for General Motors while she was in school. Essentially, she never left GM.

Park says she considers herself an artist. An artist that can influence a part of customer's life. She thinks about every little thing, from the placement of the cup holders to the distance between the steering wheel and the gear shifter. If she gets it right or the car designer gets it right, it's something that will live with the customer for years — and maybe they'll remember it, she says.

"That's the power of design," she says. "People are just emotionally drawn to it. You make a connection through the shapes. And you can't pinpoint exactly what it is about the car, but you just fall in love with the car."

This auto show is Park's first chance to create that emotional connection with customers. The Cadillac XTS is her first car. When she saw the prototype, she says she got tears in her eyes.

"I really did, because it's such an emotional experience." The opportunity to design is a true blessing, she says — to tell somebody, "I did that, I designed that."

Park says you should think of your car as a work of art. The person who designed it certainly does.

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Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A lot of us have memories of our first car. Maybe it was the Gremlin your grandmother gave you or that 1982 Toyota Corolla you bought in the '90s. Christine Park's first car is the Cadillac XTS, and it's on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. NPR's Sonari Glinton has her story.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: For a car designer, there's probably no scarier time than auto show time. There's probably no scarier auto show than the Detroit Auto Show. It's kind of like report card day for car designers.

CHRISTINE PARK: How about...would you like to sit in it? No, you can't...OK, sit in the driver's seat.

GLINTON: Christine Park is senior creative designer with Cadillac. There doesn't appear to be much that scares her. She's very eager to show off the Cadillac XTS.

PARK: Take a look at the main line here; that horizontal line. That sets the tone of the interior. Above it, see how clean the surface is. And you know, that cleanliness creates this calming, you know, serenity effect for the entire interior.

GLINTON: Park led the design of the interior of the Cadillac XTS, which is pretty impressive since she's only 28 and she graduated from design school six years ago.

PARK: There aren't many woman designers in car designer industry. I don't know if you know that. But it's a very male-dominated field. So, it's something that people don't expect.

GLINTON: Parks, who's from the San Francisco Bay Area, says she didn't expect this life for herself. She always knew she wanted to do something creative but she didn't know what.

PARK: I kind of tampered with fashion for a while, a little bit, when I was in high school. I remember taking summer classes, like high school fashion classes -loved it until...

GLINTON: Until she bought a sewing machine and realized that she couldn't sew. That's when she met a professor at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. It's kind of like the Harvard of car design school.

PARK: He told me about what a car designer does. He took me out to a parking lot and he started describing to me the character lines, the proportion, the wheel base. I did not know what he was talking about, but it was really inspiring.

GLINTON: From that moment on she was hooked.

PARK: You know, up until that point I had no idea that there was a designer behind a car; that there was an artist, that car is an art. Wow, are you telling me that I can utilize my artistic talent to create this; this, like, machinery; this moving art?

GLINTON: Park ended up going to the Art Center College of Design. She interned for General Motors while she was in school and essentially she never left. Park says she considers herself an artist; an artist that can influence a part of a customer's life. She thinks about every little thing.

PARK: You know, the placement of the cup holders. Is this too far? Is this too close? Is the steering wheel in the right place? Is the shifter and the steering wheel, that connection, you know, the distance, is that right?

GLINTON: If she gets it right or the car designer gets it right, it's something that will live with the customer for a long time, the way you remember your first car.

PARK: That's the power of design. People are just emotionally drawn to it. You make a connection through the shapes. And you can't pinpoint exactly what it is about the car, but you just fall in love with the car.

GLINTON: The auto show is Christine Park's first chance to get to create an emotional connection with customers. This is her first car.

PARK: When I first saw the prototype, I almost cried. I really did. Because it's such an emotional experience, and for me to have this type of an opportunity, it's a true blessing.

GLINTON: To be able to sit in a car that you've made.

PARK: Right, right, and to tell somebody I did that, and I designed that.

GLINTON: Park says you should think of your car as a work of art. The person who designed it certainly does. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Detroit.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.