What Drives Her: Designing Women, Designing Cars

What Drives Her
Teresa Spoffard with her pearl white Mazda

Teresa Spafford, Design Manager, Mazda.

Teresa Spafford, who manages all color and material design, and advanced design planning elements at Mazda North American Design Center, helped develop the Mazda3 and won the “EyesOn Design” award for most innovative design for the Kabura concept car.

SBC: How is color design for cars similar to fashion design – and how does it differ?

What Drives Her

Teresa and her daughters

Teresa: Fashion is such a fast paced industry and it has such a large umbrella of influence. We are drawing from fashion all the time. Due to the nature of their industry they are forced to come up with so many new ideas, four times a year to meet seasonal needs, and intently pushing limits of creativity so they are not able to be copied. But it is also due to the fact that they are copied all the time and we begin to see a trend and a tone we are able to track and possibly follow. The auto industry is so secretive and closed with amazingly long lead times for development. We both look at proportion, silhouette, details and design language. There are classic proportions to certain designs that people gravitate to, fashion and cars are very similar in that regard. Design in both industries strive to be progressive while remaining relevant. It’s tough to balance progressive and relevance since the landscape is so competitive.

SBC: What is the career path that brought you to Mazda?

Teresa: I am degreed in both graphic design and Industrial Product Design. Upon graduating I did some consulting for Mazda under Tom Matano’s direction and gained huge insight. I then returned to Australia for almost a year to gain some global perspective and returned to the USA to work for an award winning architectural firm in Salt Lake City. I then took a job as a Senior Color and Materials designer at GM in Detroit. It was a great learning time, but I knew I didn’t want to stay in Detroit. I then reconnected with Mazda and was hired later that year. I haven’t looked back. Mazda offers me all the opportunity I could have dreamed of and I have been able to do amazing things and grow beyond just design and color design into branding, and advanced product planning and strategy. I am now the Manager of Color Materials Finishes and Advanced Design Planning.

What Drives HerI’m in a very interesting position in that my fashion sense is incorporated into my design work every day. Everyone has some sort of opinion about fashion but usually only get to express it in what they wear not necessarily what they create at work. Where my position differs is that I have to take into account my taste but account for the fact that I am making vehicles for many more people who also have their own taste and aren’t necessarily looking at their cars as fashion accessories. So unfortunately the true expression of fashion is somewhat dimmed down a bit to have a broader appeal. So where I do get to express it a lot is in the details and especially with exterior colors.

SBC: What color is your car?

Teresa: Right now my car is Crystal White Pearl. I’ve never had a white car until now. It is such a popular car color I wanted to see what it felt like to have a white car. I will get a color next time; maybe a tinted gray….

What Drives Her

Not only did Teresa help design the Mazda CX-5, she also gets to drive it

SBC: What is most popular color for Mazda cars? Are different colors popular overseas?

Teresa: Silver and Gray are our most popular colors, and highest selling, and that is in line with the industry overall. I was recently in Australia this year and while traveling around I noticed many more bright vibrant colors on the road there. I wouldn’t say they outnumbered the silver and gray cars, there was just more variety on the road. It would be hard to expect a vivid blue or a vivid green to outsell silver or gray. So for me, a vivid color to be considered popular would not necessarily have to be the highest selling color.

SBC: What cars have you designed?

Teresa: The models I have worked on is complicated. I have pretty much worked on every vehicle Mazda sells in the USA since 2002. My roll and scope of influence has varied depending on where the production has been and the market share the vehicle is expected to have in this market. But I have been lucky to have a loud voice in the direction when it’s mattered most.

The RX-8 is the first car I worked on at Mazda (and first gen Mazda3). Since then, I have worked on Mazda3 1st , 2nd and 3rd generations; Tribute; B Series Truck; Mazda6 2nd  and 3rd generations; CX-9; Mazda5 1st  and 2nd generations (US market); Mazda2 for US market intro; CX-5; CX-3; MX-5 3rd  and 4th generation.

SBC: How have you incorporated sustainability into your design concepts?

Teresa: I’m always looking for new materials or processes to introduce to our design management in Japan that are environmentally conscious. Whenever I have an opportunity to place something into production I do. For example on a production leather interior sometimes vinyl is used on the seat backs. So instead of using vinyl in these areas I used a Microsuede fabric instead of vinyl. I’ve designed fabrics that use a high content of recycled fiber content and they have gone into production. In all honesty what I have been able to do in the auto industry is not sustainability, it’s more environmentally friendly options, but they all add up to help move the needle. Sort of like a healthier diet helps you live longer.

SBC: Have your daughters shown an interest in color – deciding what color to paint their rooms or insisting on a particular color bicycle?

Teresa: My eldest daughter who is now four years old has been coming to work with me since she was born. When she got her new bike with training wheels the first thing she commented on was the color. I had to hunt for a bike that I knew she would like (pink, orange or purple) that had a decent graphic scheme, (not all princesses). When you ask her what her favorite color is it’s never just one color. I was much the same as a child; I couldn’t pick just one color. She is known by her teacher at school as the one who loves to draw very colorfully. Oddly enough she really likes the color black! Typical behavior for a girl her age (minus her love of black) I’m sure but it still warms my heart and there might be a little designer there one day wearing all black as we tend to do….who knows? My younger daughter is very opinionated and knows what she likes yet she is not verbal yet (only one year old) but I’m sure she will be telling me what colors things are to be in no time.





Judy Antell, who is TravelingMom.com's Free in 50 States editor, lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her husband and... More about Judy Antell