Winners 2016



In her broad Yorkshire accent, Helen Emsley tells a story about the first time she met Dan Akerson, then chairman and CEO of General Motors (GMC is its pick-up and SUV division). “I had a big presentation with Ed Welburn [who has just retired as head of GM design], and Dan stopped us and said, ‘Hang on, why have we got a Brit in charge of a full-size truck?’ Ed said, ‘She’s in charge of the Corvette interior as well!’ We had a good laugh about that.”
Emsley is the only woman heading up a major car manufacturer’s design team. Her career started with a textile design course at Birmingham Polytechnic, followed by transport design at the Royal College of Art in London. Fortuitously, in her final year she met GM’s then head of design, Wayne Cherry, which led to a job at the Opel design studio in Germany.
In 1998 she moved to the US to manage GM’s colour and trim studio, going on to become the global director for this design area. Emsley’s gregariousness impressed Ed Welburn and he set her designing the cars themselves. Having impressed with the current Corvette Stingray, in 2013 Emsley was given leadership of the GMC design team.
Emsley attributes her success to her ability to inspire a team and fight for their work. “I’m not afraid of pushing and taking a risk,” she says. “I will go in front of anyone and say, ‘this the right thing to do’. My accent helps too – the Americans like a British accent, especially a Yorkshire one – it helps me get away with a lot,” she says.
In her youth, Emsley was warned away from arts subjects by her Doncaster teacher (a warning her more liberal-minded dad told her to ignore). She says it’s often no better today. “I think the biggest problem is that when they [students] get to universities, they’ve already made their decision. We’ve now started visiting high schools – you’ve got to get the kids interested before they start applying for colleges.”

Design Nominees

Cynthia Charwick-Bland

Charwick-Bland’s illustrious career in automotive interior design spans more than 30 years, starting in 1981 when she joined Volvo. She next moved to Saab and then to the consultancy International Automotive Design. In 2002 she was back at Volvo, again working in interiors, and was part of the bespoke all-female team that designed the company’s 2004 YCC concept car, aimed specifically at professional female buyers. Following her time at Volvo, Charwick-Bland moved on to interior design positions at MG Rover, Ford and Volvo Trucks. She is currently a part-time tutor in vehicle design at London’s prestigious Royal College of Art, as well as a consultant.

Siobhan Hughes

The look and feel of Jaguar interiors is mainly due to Siobhan Hughes and her team, with Hughes fulfilling a crucial role for a premium car maker. She has spent most of her career at Jaguar Land Rover, but also gained experience with the company’s previous owner, Ford – she designed truck interiors at its headquarters in Michigan and worked at its cutting-edge Ingeni studio in Central London. Working in Jaguar’s advanced design studio under its director, Julian Thomson, Hughes pushed boundaries on colour and materials for influential concept cars such as the R-D6 hatchback and the C-X75 supercar.

Maria Mulder

Bentley prides itself on the fastidiousness with which it creates its interiors, so Mulder’s role as head of colour and trim is paramount. She studied industrial textile design at Herriot-Watt University, graduating in 1997, and arrived at Bentley in 2015 after several years working for the Volkswagen Group, first spending 10 years as an engineer for VW South Africa, followed by a job in China working on the Group’s joint venture with Chinese manufacturer FAW to produce market-specific Audi and VW models.

Chloe Nunn

While many women in automotive design specialise in colour and trim, Nunn is one of the few who work in the main design studio, where she heads up the interior design team. She graduated with an MA in vehicle design from London’s Royal College Art in 2003, after which she was taken on by GM in Germany, working for Opel and Saab. Nunn then moved to advanced exterior design at Ford, where among other projects she worked on the concept that would eventually become the Ecosport small SUV. Nunn moved to Jaguar Land Rover in 2010, starting in advanced interior design before being promoted to her current role.

Joanne Slater

Slater’s role is not to design Jaguar Land Rover cars themselves, but to co-ordinate the design language that the company uses to project itself to the wider world – in dealerships, marketing materials, motor show stands and so on. Having gained a BSc in textile design, Slater launched her career working for a transportation textile supplier. She then spent five years working at Honda’s design studio in Frankfurt before joining JLR in 1995, starting in colour and trim.