Eight college students didn't opt for a quick face-to-face interview at a recruiting fair as a way to gain job experience. Instead, they landed a paid internship at General Motors' design studio in Warren, MI, by wowing industry designers online in an interactive design contest.
More than 300 design students from the U.S. and Canada entered the inaugural GM-Car Design News Interactive Design Challenge. The spring 2011-launched campaign invited students to create original exterior and interior designs for one of GM's four brands (Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC).
Winners were announced on Jan. 10 during the second day of press previews at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Throughout the competition, design contestants had opportunities to interface with mentors from GM as well as other automotive industry designers. The mentors offered critique and comments via a dedicated website, allowing entrants to improve their original submissions in interactive, social media fashion.
"This contest was really like a seven-month interview process," said David Lyon, Executive Director of Global Design for General Motors. "This really was a complete design process that we were able to watch."
The mentors and judges were GM designers as well as professionals from Dassault Systemes, a provider of 3-D and product life cycle management solutions; Faurecia, a supplier of seats, cockpits, and other automotive parts; and SRG Global, whose automotive portfolio includes front and rear end components as well as interior trim.
More than 6600 comments were posted to the competition website.
"There was a real cross-section to the type of work that we saw. Some of it looked very realistic and very feasible from a production standpoint. And some of the work was pure art and flight of fancy," said Lyon.
Judging criteria essentially focused on the student designer's ability to demonstrate an understanding of the brand's audience, the ability to communicate a visual message, and the ability to improve designs based on mentor feedback.
Competition mentor Dre' Clemons, CATIA Design and Styling for Dassault Systemes Americas Corp., looked at designs from all the entrants but was especially intrigued by students who "were really involved, really engaged, and really cared about what we were doing. At Dassault, we see the future of design as being a more open and more collaborative process right from the beginning."
Michael McGee, a third year student at Detroit's College for Creative Studies, liked reading the comments posted about his "vacation in traffic" interior design concept that emphasized spa-like items and functions.
"Basically, the feedback was very constructive. Having that feedback was definitely very beneficial for me," said McGee, whose work netted him the win for best Buick interior.
Brook Middlecott Banham, who's pursuing a master's degree at CCS, knows firsthand what it's like to interact with marketing representatives, senior designers, and other corporate executives. His work experience includes 10 years of freelancing as a designer of shoes and other products.
"As a designer, you have to be open to feedback—good and bad. You can't take it personally. It's part of being a professional," said Banham.
As a mentor, Faurecia's Industrial Design Manager Olivier Boinais tried to help the student designers arrive at a design that was both artistically attractive as well as production-feasible. Boinais was also a judge, a duty not shared by every other professional involved with the competition.
As a judge, Boinais looked at the designs "through the eyes of a customer" in addition to evaluating the entries in terms of how well a designer matched the needs expressed in the design brief.
With three or four students on the short list of finalists in both the interior and exterior categories, the winners were:
Buick interior: Michael McGee, College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit, MI
Cadillac interior: Vitaliy Pankov, Gulf Coast State College in Panama City Beach, FL
Chevrolet interior: Yuxin Wang, CCS
GMC interior: TJ Edmison, CCS
Buick exterior: Luke Mack, CCS
Cadillac exterior: Jiyeon Ha, Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA
Chevrolet exterior: Colin Bonathan, Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, MI
GMC exterior: Shane Harbour, CCS
Special recognition awards also were presented. Brandon Promersberger (Cleveland Institute of Art) received honors from Dassault Systemes, and Brook Banham (CCS) received accolades from Faurecia.