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A Car Designer Who Knows What You Want

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For a car designer, there's probably no scarier time than the auto show. And there's probably no scarier auto show than the Detroit Auto Show. It's like report-card day for car designers, but there doesn't appear to be much that scares Christine Park, a senior creative designer with Cadillac.

She's very eager to show off the Cadillac XTS. Park led the design of the interior of the XTS — pretty impressive, since she's only 28 and graduated from design school just six years ago.

Park is also one of a small number of female designers in the car designer industry. "It's a very male-dominated field," she says, "so it's something that people don't expect."

Park, who's from the San Francisco Bay area, says she didn't expect this life for herself. She thought of being a fashion designer for a while. "I remember taking summer classes, like high school fashion classes. I loved it until I got a sewing machine and couldn't make a shirt," she says.

Luckily, she met a professor at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The professor showed Park some cars and described character lines, proportion, the wheel base and basic parts of car design.

"Up until that point, I had no idea that there was a designer behind a car, that there was an artist. That the car is an art," Park says. She thought, "Wow, are you telling me that I can utilize my artistic talent to create this? This machinery? This moving art?"

She ended up going to Art Center College of Design, interning for General Motors while she was in school. Essentially, she never left GM.

Park says she considers herself an artist. An artist that can influence a part of customer's life. She thinks about every little thing, from the placement of the cup holders to the distance between the steering wheel and the gear shifter. If she gets it right or the car designer gets it right, it's something that will live with the customer for years — and maybe they'll remember it, she says.

"That's the power of design," she says. "People are just emotionally drawn to it. You make a connection through the shapes. And you can't pinpoint exactly what it is about the car, but you just fall in love with the car."

This auto show is Park's first chance to create that emotional connection with customers. The Cadillac XTS is her first car. When she saw the prototype, she says she got tears in her eyes.

"I really did, because it's such an emotional experience." The opportunity to design is a true blessing, she says — to tell somebody, "I did that, I designed that."

Park says you should think of your car as a work of art. The person who designed it certainly does.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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