I’m Wen Lai, Creative Designer for Chevrolet, and This Is How I Work

Building something as complex as a car is an extensive collaborative effort that involves people from different backgrounds. Of course, there are engineers who develop real mechanics, but there are also aesthetic and tactile elements that affect the way you perceive a car, each one carefully chosen by the designers.

Wen Lai is one such person at Chevrolet , where she helped design the color and trim for the Chevy Cruze . She has a background in fashion design and may have been unexpectedly hired to work in the automotive industry where she applies her creativity. Thanks to her unique position, which added color to our daily meals, we spoke with Lai to learn a little about how she works.

Location: Design Center in Warren, Michigan. Current position: Lead Creative Designer, Global Chevrolet Color and Trim Designer for the Chevy Cruze. One word that best describes the way you work: Attentively Up to date mobile device: My life is my Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and I have a job. iPhone 6. Current computer: Apple Mac Pro and iMac

First of all, tell me a little about your past and how you became who you are today.

I have experience in apparel design and applied textiles and was recruited by GM Design when I was in high school. At the time, I didn’t know anything about automotive design, color or materials, but I accepted the job anyway. On my first day on the job, I got into the car with my boss and she explained every detail of the car to me and then entrusted me with the color and finish of all our global small cars. I learn everything at super speed.

One of the first cars I worked on was the Chevy Cruze; I remember well being aware of the scale and enormous impact of such a global product.

What apps, software and tools can’t you live without? Why?

At work, I use Adobe products extensively to visually represent creative ideas, graphic layouts, and product strategies.

Searching for images is essential for my work, and VSCO and Instagram are great platforms for dreaming, inspiration, and sharing.

I’m obsessed with my phone and how Google knows my habits and anticipates my needs.

How is your workplace arranged?

My desk is facing the glass wall that opens onto the patio, natural light is really good with materials and colors.

I have a Mac Pro, two giant screens, and a Wacom tablet. Then there are the swatches: piles of fabric swatches, paint swatches, chrome bits, door fittings, dashboard sections, floor mats, leather skins, spools of thread, seats, laser etched samples … the endless materials I am hoarding.

What’s your best time-saving life hack?

I set aside time (as close to the deadline as possible) for tasks that are not disruptive, so I don’t wander around and change my mind. I love to pack right before the trip, I start packing 15-30 minutes before the flight to the airport … it makes everyone anxious. At work, I change my schedule to arrive early when the workload gets intense, so I have time alone without distractions. I will also set aside hours in my calendar for creative work so that it is not interrupted by appointments.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

Pen and paper.

What device, besides a phone and a computer, can you not live without and why?

I always have a sketchbook and a pen for ideas; I love to go back to sketching and taking notes. I prefer quality black ink pens and buy dozens of them because they are beautiful on paper, inexpensive and travel well.

What are some of your best everyday activities? What’s your secret?

I keep my cool under pressure and stress. I thrive on problems, conflicts and setbacks, and this is just an opportunity to find solutions and do something better.

What do you listen to while you work? Have a favorite playlist? Maybe we can talk on the radio? Or do you prefer silence?

I have a terrible taste for music, so I pick random stations and playlists on Spotify or those my husband has put together.

What are you reading now? What would you suggest?

[I read] Every recommendation or passage on Mongolia in anticipation of my travels there this year. [And] Selling Paul Beatty .

How do you replenish? What do you do when you want to forget about work?

For a quick break, I need fresh air and preferably fresh air, but a little time in the fresh air will do.

Playing fetch with our puppy is also good, his excitement is immediately gratifying, and I don’t need to run.

I also enjoy spending time in the kitchen, I love taking on tedious and tedious recipes.

What is your sleep pattern? Are you a night owl or get up early?

I do not have the healthiest sleep patterns, I usually go to bed from midnight to 1 am and get up by 5 or 6 in the morning. It works for me.

Fill in the blank: I would like _________ to answer these same questions.

Massimo Bottura , Italian restaurateur and chef.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Stay humble and hungry.

What else would you like to add that might be of interest to readers and fans?

I really appreciate traveling to cultural cities; I prefer the sensory overload of a hectic and crowded city. Ordinary humming background noise, lingering odors, old building materials contrasting with shiny new architecture, colors of local products and handicrafts in the market, street fashion. There is nothing better than seeing the city in person. As a creative person, I always document these details; they can easily find their place in the future design of Chevrolet.


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