The Future of Automotive Design: Where Fashion and Technology Meet

Sandy Mcgill Of Bmw
Sandy McGill, lead designer, BMW, examines leather samples for planning the interiors of future BMW and MINI models

Women are a driving force in auto design. You’re not surprised, are you?

Think about what your car’s dashboard looked like ten years ago. Now think about what it looks like today. You can see how much technology has changed the way our cars look and function (and it probably seemed to do a lot then, right?). Just imagine what it will look like 10 years from now.

That is the mission behind the annual New England Motor Press Association’s MIT Technology Conference, which takes place on May 26 at the MIT Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Hosted by NEMPA, this event brings together a panel of experts to discuss the challenges and trends facing the automotive industry.

The discussion this year will focus on the Intersection of Technology and Design and the panel of experts includes two women from very different industries who bring unique points of view.

Stacy Swank, Craftsmanship Supervisor, Lincoln, Is Charged With Ensuring The Brand'S Aesthetics Set The Brand'S Standards

Another woman in design: Lincoln’s Stacy Swank, craftsmanship supervisor, is charged with ensuring the brand’s standards. Photo: Lincoln

To shed light on the future, Mary Gustanski, Vice President of Engineering & Program Management, Delphi Automotive Systems, and Michelle Tolini Finamore, Curator of Fashion Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston will share their views on how engineering and fashion intersect.

Mary leads Delphi program management, guiding the development process to ensure products are launched on time. She was named one of “100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry” by Automotive News in 2010 and holds a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and a master’s in manufacturing management. Michelle, a Ph.D. in the history of decorative arts, design, and material culture, curates exhibits for Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and has authored numerous books on fashion and the arts.

How an engineer and a fashion curator intersect

Helen Emsley Of Gmc

Engineering meets aesthetics in Helen Emsley’s world; as executive director, global design for GMC, Emsley is charged with making sure form meets function. Photo: GMC

You might not think an engineer and a fashion curator from a museum would have anything in common, but their individual areas of expertise play important roles in vehicle design.

There are certain things you need when you buy a car. These are practical things, like room for six people or all-wheel-drive or off-road capability. Then there are the things that you want in a car. This includes an interior that is pleasant, comfortable, and uncluttered. That’s the intersection of technology and design.

Infotainment systems swallowed our dashboards whole and now the move is on to make them simpler, less obtrusive, and more integrated into overall vehicle design. That integration only happens when the engineers of the world like Gustanksi and the design experts like Finamore come together during the design process.

Additional speakers on this year’s panel include Timothy Anness, Head of Advance Design at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Dr. Gill Pratt, CEO, Toyota Research Institute, and John J. Leonard, Professor of Mechanical and Ocean Engineering, MIT. Together they’ll discuss where automotive design is headed and give insight on cars of the future.

We will be there and we hope you’ll follow along, too. We’ll be posting to the AGirlsGuidetoCars Facebook page and sharing on Twitter. Follow @AGirlsGuidetoCars, @NicoleWakelin, and @ScottyReiss to join the conversation or even pose some questions of your own!

Nicole Wakelin contributes to The Boston Globe, CarGurus, BestRide, and Boldride, and she hosts her own blog,, where... More about Nicole Wakelin