One of my projects is to collect information on CMF design experience. During my career, I realized how difficult is to find information regarding this role. I hope that the testimonials collected help young students, Companies and Human resources to understand better what exactly it means to be a CMF designer.
Without further ado, let me introduce you Christine (Voetsch) Ebner, MBA: Designer CMF/Innovation at General Motors
You are a CMF Designer – Advanced Design at General Motors department but who is Christine? Try to describe yourself
I really enjoy travelling and learning about different countries and cultures. This passion brought me to many interesting places in the world and opened my eyes and heart for the differences. I was born and raised in Germany and live for several years in Los Angeles, USA. It has been quite a journey to learn about and appreciate the US culture and I feel very fortunate that I have this opportunity.
Besides working on car design, I enjoy designing and making products and jewelry. The part I like about products and jewelry. is the direct response from customers. In car design, we often don’t see customer response for a very long time.
Above all though I love to be and spend time with my children. They keep me focused and teach me the wonders and blessings of life every day.
What did you study to undertake this profession?
I studied product/jewelry design in Germany. During this time I completed an internship at a software company and learned their 3D program. My design degree and the knowledge of the 3D software opened the doors to car design.
I also have a Master in Business with a focus on Marketing.
Who or what inspired you to become a Designer CMF?
There are several key moments and especially certain people in my life that inspired and encouraged me to choose and continue this path. In retrospect, it all started with my love for colours and fascination with materials and their characteristics/limitation. However, it was never a straight path, it was more like moving through a jungle and be open for the next opportunity.
What is for you a Colour, Material and Finish designer and how would you describe your work?
CMF design is a very multifaceted job that requires many different skills. The most important part of my job as a CMF designer in automotive is to make sure my work will enhance the exterior or interior design of a vehicle. Sounds easy? Getting there is very often a long and tedious process within a large corporation.
Let’s start with the design itself: knowing the latest trends and learning about new materials is an ongoing process. You will also need to know and understand the design direction and the customer profile for the product. For production colour and a material library is limited to production approved ones, however, there are areas where you do have freedom. For advanced design understanding and knowing new developments in technologies is crucial.
Then there are the different relationships you will need to build and foster. Car design is a team effort with many people involved in making decisions and supporting your efforts. Therefore good people and communication skills are very important. I’m not only talking about verbal and written skills, but also visualization skills. Photoshop, Illustrator, 3D rendering software will be your tools to show your ideas.
Oh, well, one last word, don’t forget to have fun!
A Designer CMF must be up to date on trends. How do you collect information to inspire the design of a new product?
Design studios usually have different subscriptions to the different trend services. Besides that I go to different industry shows during the year, vendors will contact me to show their latest materials/processes/colours etc. There is also the internal trend analysis from different departments and sources available. I would say these are the standard sources of inspirations, but there are also the ones that come more organically. Sometimes I get inspired by a piece of furniture in a store or an interesting architecture I see while travelling etc.
Can you tell me what area of CMF design do you specialize in?
I’m working for the General Motors Advanced Design Studio in California. I work primarily on future products and innovations.
What is the most unusual place that you have visited and what do you learned for your job?
The most unusual place I visited was the company that did the wood finishes for a project. It was not the best LA neighborhood and the company was hidden in an alley. People from LA probably know what kind of areas I’m talking about. The warehouse was overflowing with furniture and other wood pieces. It was really messy, you had to step over things, but at the far end of the room was a clean and well-kept paint booth. The people working there did the most beautiful wood finishes I have ever seen, real artisans. They instantly understood what I was trying to achieve, knew exactly how to get there and did a wonderful job.
What I learned was: don’t judge a book by its cover.
What is your best project that you have worked on and why?
There are numerous great projects I worked on over the years. The most memorable though are the Rolls-Royce Phantom, the Cadillac Ciel and one of the most recent projects I worked on.
There are different reasons why those were all great projects. The most exciting one was to see people truly come together as a team to create something new and exciting.
What difficulties can meet a designer working CMF? Do you remember a particular experience?
I think one of the most difficult but rewarding relationships is the one with the engineering department. In general, engineers are interested in creating things that work well and last, designers are looking for the next new thing. The two different interests don’t always work well together.
When I designed and planned the woodwork in the Cadillac Ciel, the entire engineering team told me that I will fail. Not very encouraging, huh? However, after finding the material, getting the right people on board, things started to happen and people changed their minds. It was a big effort and scary at times, but at the end well worth it.
Designers often have to push the envelope so something more unique can be created.
How do you look into the future with your job?
I think many of current processes will be still available and valid, but there will be new technologies and processes and requirements that will demand change. I know this is a really generic answer to this question. What I personally would like to see happen more in future is design not only be driven by form and function but also with the material in mind.
What is your opinion on the changes in the global market fairs?
Today, we live in a global economy. This means products need to be sellable in many different markets. This often means products become unified and lose diversity.
The other day I heard the expression “Glocal” which stands for think Global but act Local. The way I understood and like this expression is that some areas in a vehicle could and should be unified, other parts more unique and market specific.
What suggestions would you give to those who would like to pursue your career?
One of my professors for my MBA program said once: “… don’t choose a career, choose your passion, the rest will follow.” So if Color, Materials and Finishes is your passion, follow it.