Interview with GM's Director of Buick Interior Design: Liz Wetzel

Liz Wetzel

Liz Wetzel

For anyone who attended a 2015 Auto Show this year, you may well have seen-and been spell-bound by-the Concept vehicle in Buick’s display. The Avenir, as it’s been named, is one beauty of a luxury sedan. I, for one, would be first in line to grab one up if it ever becomes a reality.

I would, however, have named it “Riviera.” The iconic, luxury two-door coupe and convertible (at its best in the 1980s-although some would argue the 1960s), needs….needs to be brought back. Much like the Ford Thunderbird moniker, Riviera is one of the best names in the auto world.

No surprise, the beauty of the Avenir was brought to life under the direction of a female designer: Liz Wetzel, Director of Buick Interior Design. Fourth generation automotive industry lifer, Wetzel followed in her family’s footsteps. After attending the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, she started at General Motors in the Advanced Vehicle Engineering department. In 1997, she became the first female vehicle chief designer.

Thus far, having spent her entire career at GM, Wetzel is currently the director of Buick Interior Design where she oversees the design of the new Concept Buick Avenir. In the “Inside My Design Mind” profile series Wetzel shares her insights and inspirations, as well as what the automotive industry continues to overlook-and needs to talk more about-in the area of design.

What is your design philosophy?Buick-Avenir-concept-front-view

“Design is more than skin deep. To embrace design is to be a problem solver in your approach to customer needs, product innovation, and process improvements. Innovation and creativity are essential for brand relevance. Unleashing creativity in the design studio is a catalyst for fresh thinking and solutions.

My passion and design philosophy is to create products that connect with our customers on an emotional level by being visually attractive, refined, intuitive, and easy to use.”

What segment of the automotive industry do you feel needs the most attention to solve major design issues?

“One of the most important facets of our business that not enough people talk about is the importance of sculpting. As an industry, we focus on designers sometimes, but at Buick, whose design language is all about sculptural beauty, a great surfacing team is essential. So sculpting—both digital and clay—is a quiet side of this business not talked about enough.”

How do you and your team approach design to discover and create an incredible—and maybe unexpected—experience? What are the ways you connect to drivers or have “test-drives” of design options?

“Our focus begins with an intimate understanding of our customers’ tastes and preferences, and their use of the interior and technology. We do this in a number of ways, internally and externally, including trend forecasting, lifestyle and consumer product research, and talking with customers one-on-one and in a group setting. Our design process requires a balance of acumen, discernment, and vision.”

What are your most recent projects, and what have you learned from them?

“We kicked off the new year in a big way with the unveiling of the Buick Avenir flagship concept car at the North American International Auto Show.

The collaboration we enjoyed with our design colleagues in Australia for the interior of the Avenir concept was great. Approximately 10,000 miles and 16 time zones separated the Melbourne and Detroit-area studios. Designers shared renderings and communicated via live conference without ever having to make a single trip. Once the North America team created the data and turned it over to the Australia team, it was obvious they could refine it to the next level and execute it. They did a fabulous job, and the result is fantastic.”

What’s your “must-have” tool, technology, or gadget?

“My iPhone is my “must-have” tool. It’s my calendar, camera, and connection to my team and family.”

How do you know when a design is done? Or is it ever?

“A design is done when the time is up, and you have refined it to a level of excellence.”

Who (or what) inspires you most and why?

“I am an avid runner and hiker. Being able to get outdoors and enjoy the beauty of nature on a trail is a great way to clear my mind and prepare for the day ahead.”
“For me, the best place to work is in the Buick studios. Holt Ware (Buick’s Exterior Design director) and I are committed to fostering an environment of trust and empowerment so that creativity and innovation can thrive. We have an incredibly talented team that is united around the opportunity to lead with great design and help shape the long-term vision of the Buick brand.”

Where is the best place for you to work?

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