Car design has traditionally been a man's domain. No longer true. More and more, automotive companies are evolving the industry stereotype. GM's Chevrolet is a pioneer in embracing female designers. Winning car design has been referred to as solving a ...and more »
Designer Spotlight is a regular column focusing on style/design and the professional woman.
Car design has traditionally been a man’s domain. No longer true. More and more, automotive companies are evolving the industry stereotype. GM’s Chevrolet is a pioneer in embracing female designers.
Winning car design has been referred to as solving a complex puzzle. Chevy understands that to stay relevant in today’s competitive marketplace, it is imperative to optimize a diverse, collaborative design team that merges innovative technical and aesthetic solutions.
Mara Kapsis is a young Color and Trim Designer currently working on Chevy passenger cars & crossovers and is a member of the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox design team in Detroit, Michigan. The Chevy Equinox is Chevrolet’s second-best selling vehicle, after the Silverado.
Kapsis has helped Chevy Equinox’s design team stay on trend by introducing interior and exterior design features such as durable, easy-to-clean, denim-like seat materials inspired by fashion and social media research.
“The Equinox is designed for the way our customers live,” says Kapsis.
“By following real people [on Instagram and other social platforms] and absorbing the little things in life that help or hinder them - such as photos posted of muddy paws, spilled drinks or stains on the seats - we learned more about how we could make the new Equinox easier to live with and enjoy every day.”
Kapsis interned with General Motors Australia Design Studio while earning her BA in Textile Design from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. After a full time position at GM for four years, she left to start her own creative textile and homewares design business, but Kapsis missed being a part of a bigger team, so she relocated to the U.S. and returned to GM.
Kristina Moore: What sparked your interest in automotive design?
Mara Kapsis: While studying textile design at university, our class teamed up with professionals from the Chevrolet design department. We worked on a project exploring innovative material use in an automotive environment and I was instantly hooked. Up until that point, I really knew nothing about the field and soon discovered this fascinating world that melds technology with style, comfort and purpose. Automotive design really challenges your creativity. Working within the necessary constraints of engineering requirements, we bring life and personality to this complex mechanism.
Chevrolet Equinox Color & Trim Designer Mara Kapsis.
How do you find your diverse background helping you design for General Motors?
Kapsis: A couple of years back, I took some time away from the auto industry to develop my own range of homewares products. During that time, I also worked with a florist, as a graphic designer and even had a part time retail job at a beautiful homewares store. These were all very hands on experiences, so through making and creating, I was able to truly reconnect with the material development process that I now implement into my daily role at Chevy working with colors and materials.
Selling my work at design markets also allowed me to connect directly with my customers. I gained a much greater understanding of what drove their purchases as well as what may have discouraged them.
When I returned to Chevrolet, I had a stronger passion for the design of color and materials and I am heavily influenced by a more hands on design methodology and process.
Just as important, I have a renewed connection with who it is we are designing for and I am much more conscious of our Chevy customer, even in the very early stages of our design work.
The 2018 Equinox was released in May with sales nearing 2 million since its launch.
How do you imagine color and materials might sway my decision to buy a Chevrolet Equinox?
Kapsis: Just as we shop for clothes that express our personalities, we hope to enable our customers with a similar opportunity for expression through the color and materials. We always try to put ourselves into the shoes of the buyer, and aim to create design colors and materials that are harmonious with their personality and lifestyle.
The 2018 Chevrolet Equinox’s exterior color palette ranges from traditional colors like Silver Ice to the dynamic Orange Burst and sophisticated Storm Blue metallic, so there really is something for everyone. In the interior of the Equinox, we also offer a range of colors that suit various lifestyles.
Personally, I am very pragmatic and appreciate materials that have a sense of comfort and calm. The perfect fit for me is our LT fabric interior, which is inspired by black denim. For someone who may be a little livelier, however, the Premier leather appointed seating in the vibrant Jet Black/Brandy combination makes a different statement altogether.
A glimpse inside Equinox’s all-new interior.
Given that fashion design trends are so fickle, how do you manage having to commit to design elements more than a year or two in advance of GM’s rollout of a new car?
Kapsis: We continuously track trends in fashion, lifestyle, product design and more. We’re also constantly analyzing these patterns to gauge longevity. For example, the black denim inspired fabric in the LT models of the Equinox relates to recent furniture trends in textural coloring, but also has a timeless style like black jeans that remain relevant and modern across seasons. The cherry on top is the practicality of this material, which is easier to clean and, therefore, serves a great purpose.
Equinox’s Teen Driver allows parents to set controls.
How does function drive design at Chevy? Do you find your diversity in training helps with this?
Kapsis: In color and trim, the function of a material should not compromise the aesthetics and vice versa. It is sometimes a game of tug of war, but as we aim to enhance the experience our customers have of their vehicle, it means enabling optimal functionality balanced with beautiful design.
In the Chevrolet Equinox, we took every opportunity to embellish functional areas. The air vent outlets feature a sophisticated satin chrome finish. With no impact to the operation, we were able to introduce a refined finish and an element of jewelry to the styling.
In another example, a new surface treatment for lighter colored leather seating surfaces makes it easier to clean any “bleeding” of dye from new jeans or black belts. This enables us to create the spacious and luxurious feeling synonymous with this coloration without compromising on the functionality of the vehicle.
The Equinox really is designed for the way our customers live. My training gives me an eye for material and color design, but that is only one piece of the puzzle. It is the collaboration with our experts in materials, engineering and styling that has enabled us to produce such a thoughtful product.
Kapsis at work.
What excites you about your field and what do you want to say to other creative professionals that may have overlooked the auto industry?
Kapsis: Color and trim is such a diverse field and, in that sense, there is always something new to be excited about. From a new fabric technology, to a beautiful stitch detail or a unique color combination, our world is filled with simply delightful things and we get to bring a little bit of that into people’s lives through the design of their vehicle. A vehicle purchase is such a personal and truly significant occasion for our customers and the idea that we get to play even a small part in making their driving experience a great one is very rewarding. That’s what it’s all about.
In my role, I am also fortunate enough to work with designers all over the globe, who are experienced in a range of design disciplines. To those who may have overlooked the auto industry, I’d say that there is certainly more than what may first meet the eye. We get the opportunity to work with designers from differing design backgrounds, along with our engagement with a breadth of functions from engineering to marketing (and everything in between). It’s an intensely creative and an utterly fascinating industry.
Equinox is Chevrolet’s second-best selling vehicle, after the Silverado.
What do you hope to accomplish at GM over the next few years?
Kapsis: At Chevrolet, we continue to push innovation in materials as well as creative applications. As our industry moves to innovate, we aim to introduce more progressive color and trim design that further enhances our customers’ experiences. Our attention to detail is persistently evolving and we are bringing this thoughtful design approach into our products and ultimately to our customers.
How do you replenish your creativity and energy?
Kapsis: As much as I love going down the rabbit hole of Instagram or Pinterest for inspiration, sometimes I just need to escape. For this, I love to travel.
Having relocated to the U.S from Australia, I have been taking the opportunity to explore the varying landscapes here. On a recent trip to Olympic National Park in Washington, we hiked to an alpine lake where the pure water, various textures in vegetation and changes in light instantly revitalized me. On another recent trip to Marfa, Texas, the contemporary artwork in such a unique setting triggered ideas around the environment’s influence on color and materials. It’s a true privilege to be able to visit places like these that are gold mines for creativity and energy.
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