CMF Designer Sophia Park Scores Big at LA Auto Show with Rivian R1T Truck and R1S SUV

Sophia Park has been to other auto shows, but the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, held in early December, was her first time attending as one of the designers of two featured vehicles. A 2016 graduate of MFA Color and Materials Design, Park is a CMF Designer for Rivian, the Plymouth, Michigan-based manufacturer of electric vehicles. Park is on the team of designers who collaborated on the highly anticipated R1T™ truck, an all-electric, five-passenger pickup meant for the rugged outdoors, and the all-electric R1S™ seven-passenger SUV. “I felt very emotional,” Park said of seeing her work come to fruition. “It was overwhelming, a bit like a dream. Our design team put lots of effort and passion into these vehicles. We started sketching last year, but, after that, it was refinement, refinement, refinement. It was a lot of work: lots of late nights, even the weekends.”

So far, that work has paid off. The Rivian R1T was met with critical acclaim at the LA Auto Show, and — promising up to 400 miles per charge — is set to hit production in 2020, along with the R1S. The R1T truck boasts a nontraditional front end with a daytime running light strip instead of the usual grille. The light strip is punctuated on either end by two pill-shaped headlights, a detail that is repeated on the truck’s interior seating. Park also chose an unusual, but elegant, interior color — green — as the one of color and trim options.

samples of green car interior fabrics

“I pushed for the green interior. In this day and age, you don’t normally see green interiors. As a CMF designer, I forecast and analyze trends as well. I saw that green was an emerging trend from fashion to consumer electronics industries. I wanted to find out what would be next for the automotive industry but also fit the Rivian brand.”

“Green is the new black for the outdoor industry. This color can be both feminine and masculine, and can be sophisticated as well as functional; it can hide dirt or stains. I tried to develop the right green for Rivian. It is a tricky color to nail down because it can be too tacky or too military. It needed to be the right hue and value. I wanted to create a strong statement because this is a new brand, and color is a powerful tool to express personality and convey a message without words. I strategically chose this green to create a cohesive brand story.”

The amount of research, thoughtfulness and effort that goes into a seemingly small decision — the color of car seats — may surprise those not familiar with CMF (color, materials, finishes) design. But the field can be poorly understood outside of the industry. Park noted that her role in designing for both vehicle interiors and exteriors goes well beyond picking out colors and fabrics. She attended a number of trend shows, including the Overland Expo, a bicoastal experience for outdoor and adventure enthusiasts, in order to help her figure out what drivers need, and what they would like to have, in a higher-end truck suitable for off-road adventures. The R1T’s unique front “face” and color are the result of extensive research conducted by Park and the rest of the team.

Interior of the Rivian R1T SUV

Prior to CCS, Park had stints designing medical products for a company in Seoul, Korea; working for an art gallery and she even studied art therapy. Her background is in textile and fashion design, which she loved but found limiting. “With CMF design you can do many things — not just working with fabric, but many different materials like plastic or metal,” said Park. “For me, the most fascinating part of CMF design is that it communicates directly to the customer’s heart. I believe the role of a CMF designer is to create a strong emotional connection between the brand and the consumer. It is a very human-centered design field and is a big part of a cohesive brand experience. Customers see the color and touch the materials. CMF designers are designing for the senses.”