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What General Motors Can Teach You about Design

Last month I was reading an article in Fast Company Magazine about GM’s VP of Global Design, Ed Welburn, and how he managed to keep the auto company on top after such a hard hit to the industry. This was only a one page interview but I managed to learn a few key lessons about design and how greatly it affects business.

2013 CorvetteWelburn talked about being relevant; which is something that should be on the forefront of all company owners minds at all times. Although being relevant seems like the obvious model lending to success it is a factor that doesn’t always get completely accomplished. Welburn is in the midst of redesigning the Corvette, a classic car that has been practically untouched for years. During this section he mentions that he doesn’t “…want to be the person that ruins the Corvette. And yet it needs to evolve and stay fresh…”

So, how is he going to manage recreating a piece of history with the pressure of keeping the Corvette’s appeal? Ask for help. Welburn reached out to all 10 design centers across the globe to see various options and then create one harmonious design that will withstand diverse cultures and tastes. There are times when old designs need more than just a few touches of modernity and instead need to undergo a complete redesign. As a company you cannot be afraid to reach out and seek advice from design experts. Logos, web pages, packaging, and materials all need to have mass appeal. There is no better way to create a globally accepted design unless you reach beyond your own front door.

The third and most interesting lesson that I picked up from Welburn is that the saying “competition breeds excellence” is in fact the truth. The latest model Camaro actually came from two competing design studios. These studios knew that they were each creating a model but could not communicate with one another. Although, a bold idea on Welburn’s part he mentions that this created designs so well done that it was one of the hardest decisions he has had to make.

Okay, let’s recap. Welburn has created three design lessons that we should pay attention to: Stay relevant even if it requires being bold and starting fresh. Create a design with universal appeal through collaboration and cooperation with others. Sometimes a little friendly competition can lead to great results.

When designing for your company don’t be afraid to be bold – your design is your first impression, make it stand out.

Reference: Fast Company, September 2012 Issue 167, ‘Keeping Eyes on the Rides’ – Elena Bergeron

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