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Women In Design

Women are making inroads into the hitherto male dominated automotive industry. Meet six women designers from Tata Motors Ltd’s (TML) global design studios, who are calling the shots in the colours, materials and finish (CMF) segment with their creative and innovative flair

August 2021     |     1364 words     |     5-minute read

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Although the percentage of women in the automobile industry is barely 30%, they are gradually catching up with their male colleagues in numbers.

According to Tata Motors’ new global head of Design, Martin Ulharik, some roles within design, mainly in the colours, materials and finish (CMF) teams have historically been the preserve of women.“Women in Tata Motors’ design teams are now making a positive influence in areas such as interior and exterior design, design quality, design operations and planning, CAS (computer aided styling) modelling, concept design and design focused HR,” he says.

Tata Motors’ CMF team — spread across three centres in India (Pune), Italy (Turin) and the UK (Coventry) — comprises 9 employees, of which 6 are women. The design team represents 12 nationalities globally, and Mr Ulharik attributes the team’s success to the gender diversity and inclusion.

“One of the main roles of CMF designers is to create a strategic persona of a car, using colours and materials. … The CMF team has contributed in a major way to shaping Tata Motors into a younger, sassier brand,” he adds.

Kyeong-Hee Shim, Head, CMF, Tata Motors, Coventry, UK

Kyeong-Hee Shim heads the CMF team at Coventry, UK

A graduate in Industrial Design, Kyeong-Hee Shim started her career as an intern at Daewoo Motor Company’s Worthing Technical Centre, UK, where she learnt about CMF. “The CMF team is multidisciplinary, with varied skill sets complementing each other to make a great team,” she says, adding, “Team members come from diverse backgrounds — industrial and transportation design to fashion and textile design. According to her, gender shouldn’t dictate one’s profession; it’s more a case of individual choice. For Shim, an ideal candidate for the CMF designer role is a creative person with a keen eye on social and design trends, with the ability to translate them into design solutions. Her advice is to be open minded, a team player, work hard and never give up.

As the chief designer, with over two decades of experience, Shim was the first to join what is today the CMF team of four in the UK

“As a part of the Global Design team, we all do our bit. A truly good design outshines when the different functions in the design team work harmoniously,” remarks Shim, adding, “The shapes, lines and volumes of the exterior and interior design are beautifully executed; CMF’s touch adds ambience, curiosity, visual and tactile appeal that takes the whole experience to a new level.”

Francesca Vesprini, concept designer, Design team, TML, Italy

Francesca Vesprini has been a car enthusiast from childhood. Her fondness for cars led her father to gift her an electric off-road vehicle as a toy. Soon this attraction turned into a passion. She describes it as “the constant desire to stay inside any car, this sense of relaxation that has always transmitted to me, a love that has always been there.” For Vesprini, becoming a part of the automotive industry was a natural progression, given her love for cars.

Besides, her job gives her the opportunity to participate in automotive events across Italy, where she gets a chance to meet new people, forge new friendships, and share her interests with like-minded people.

Vesprini acknowledges that the automotive sector is witnessing a wave of change, with women entering the field and making a positive influence. She says the internet has helped to open up a world of knowledge and information for women to explore.

Rupa R Bogam, design perceived quality specialist, CMF, Pune, India

With a diploma in Metallurgy engineering, Rupa R Bogam started her career with General Motors India, where she discovered her talent in CMF.

Bogam believes that women have an innate sense of colour and aesthetics, making them well cut out for this field. She also has a rather interesting insight into why women are being drawn to the auto industry. “In the past decade, women buyers for cars have nearly doubled from 10-12% to 25%,” she says, adding, “Women car owners tend to change cars more frequently. Also, while purchasing a vehicle, women are the key decision makers in the family. Moreover, industries are looking for balance in gender, skills, perspectives, approaches and diversity as a driver for growth in business."

Silvia Abba, computer aided styling/digital modeller, TML Design team, Turin, Italy

Silvia Abba credits her love for cars to the wonderful memories from her childhood, when she made long car trips with her grandparents and keenly observed details like lights on the dial, colours and other interior details of the vehicle. “These features made my imagination travel,” she remarks.

Her passion for graphics during high school along with interest in 3D modelling, thanks to the Alias Autostudio (an automotive design and surface design software) course, led her to work at several style studios and study centres. Abba believes that women’s heightened sense of aesthetics is often a great counter to men’s technical competence. TML, with its range of automotive segments, offers her the opportunity to learn, share and grow through the exchange of skills. Even during time off, Abba is never too far from automobiles, for she is busy with fixing historic cars and motorcycles.

Maria Idicula Kurian, principal colour & trim designer, CMF, Pune, India

Maria Idicula Kurian's career trajectory took her from dabbling in the field of fashion initially to moving wholly into auto design in her current role. Her National Institute of Design (NID) batchmates introduced her to the auto field and sparked in her the desire to pursue CMF professionally.

Being a textile design student, Kurian leveraged her design sensibilities optimally in CMF projects. "Although women designers existed in the field, it is the international original equipment manufacturers that have encouraged women to step into this earlier male dominated exterior/interior design segment in a big way," remarks Kurian. Not conforming to the idea of gender-specific jobs, Kurian says, apart from a different perspective, what women really bring to the field is more inclusive solutions to problems.

Kurian credits her master's course in Material Futures from Central Saint Martin, London, besides NID, in helping her build a strong base as a designer. The trans-disciplinary practice of working with experts, taking risks, and blurring boundaries between design, science and technology in her master's course helped her to look beyond existing disciplines in a more future aligned sense.

Kurian draws inspiration not only from artists like Dieter Rams, Charles and Ray Eames, Lee Alexander McQueen, and Chris Bangle; but also from documentarians, writers, trend forecasters, as well as design events. "We typically observe political, socio-cultural, and technological shifts, and then identify and brainstorm 'signals' that could potentially alter how we live and behave in the future. We also look at shifts across industries like architecture, interiors, apparel, footwear, sports, technology, arts and music. We also keenly observe the automotive sector to understand where it's heading," remarks Kurian.

Kavita Singh, design perceived quality specialist, Tata Motors Design Studio, Pune, India

Kavita Singh, with a degree in Polymer engineering, started out on the technical side of things in the industry. The opportunity to cross over came in 2017, when she joined TML's Design Studio as part of the Perceived Quality team. She believes her role creates a connect from the initial design phase to final production, where one works on colour, texture and materials that up the product's value and design perception.

Singh believes that since women are more likely to experiment with colour in their everyday lives, they are more adept at using these sensory and emotive skills in this field. "Different skills, perspectives and approaches have been beneficial for industries. Women contribute to a creative and inventive work environment in the automobile industry," she says, adding, "An awareness of the available opportunities in this field along with advanced opportunities, flexible work environment, competitive wages and benefits will attract more women to consider the automobile industry as a career option."

The sky is the limit when it comes to inspiration in design, and these CMF touches exemplify it
Students listening intently to a session on the nuances of automotive design culture, conducted by TML's senior design personnel
Members who participated in a design group workshop for students in the India studio

—Tejal Pandey

Photographs courtesy Tata Motors Ltd

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