What makes a vehicle unique? If you ask Michelle Killen, lead creative designer at General Motors, she’ll tell you it’s the color and trim.
“Color and trim is a growing field of design,” said Killen. “Yes, performance and engineering are important, but it’s the color and trim that gives a personal touch the customer can relate to. Making the vehicle stand out and look different to the customer—this often helps to sell.”
“It sometimes surprises people that my degree was in interior design, not transportation. But everything I learned from my interior design professors at CCS about scale, color and the overall design process can be applied to the interior of a car.”
As a lead creative designer, Killen and her team design every detail that customers see on a vehicle. This includes color, wood grain, gloss, fabric patterns and seating. Recently, Killen returned from the Canadian Auto Show where GM revealed the concept for the Cadillac Escala.
“We wanted the design for the Escala to show the industry where the direction of Cadillac is going,” Killen explained. “Designing a show car allows a designer to think outside the box. This can sometimes be a struggle on production programs where we have budgets.”
Killen’s 11-year career has been filled with fulfilling, positive moments (seeing a car she helped design on the road for the first time) as well as some challenging moments that tested her skills. For example, she once received push back from management about the use of Opulent Blue Metallic on a vehicle; she was praised for this choice one year later after the VP saw it on the road.
“I consider my career to be my greatest professional accomplishment,” said Killen. “It’s allowed me to grow both personally and professionally. In the long term, I’d like to move into management and someday retire from here. I truly believe GM is the right place for me; I love going to work everyday.”