What Drives Her: Chevy’s Jennifer Kraska Wants to Inspire the Next Generation of Automotive Designers

Jennifer Kraska In The Escala Concept Vehicle
Jennifer Kraska in the Escala Concept Vehicle

Creating bold interior designs that inspire the future.

Take a second to compare the 1999 Chevy Silverado to the 2010 model. You would probably notice that there wasn’t a remarkable difference over the decade on the outside. Now, look at the 2024 Silverado EV, and it’ll blow you away. The new Silverado EV and Equinox EV are bold innovations on crowd-favorite cars that have slowly evolved over the past decade. As Jennifer Kraska would say, these vehicles create a driving experience that is undeniably Chevy. Jennifer is the Director of Design at Chevrolet Interiors, a job that inspires her to think bigger than ever before and create statement cars unlike any other.

With the responsibility that comes with such a job title, it might surprise you to learn that Jennifer never thought of herself as a leader. For starters, she still gets butterflies before presentations. She’s an introvert. Plus, she didn’t have many women to look up to in the industry.

“Flashback 25 years ago, I could probably count on one hand how many female designers there were at GM,” Jennifer said.

While Jennifer didn’t always see herself as a leader, she has always been a creative with a vibrant personality. This was evident when Jennifer joined us on Zoom from her office. When she turned on her webcam, my computer screen filled with color. Her design team had completely covered the walls of Jennifer’s office with rainbow sticky notes for her birthday. Balloon monkeys hung from her ceiling. Jennifer said she loved the gesture so much that she never took it all down.

Related: What Drives Her: GM’s Electrification with Jennifer Widrick

Jennifer Kraska With Her Family

Jennifer Kraska with her family

She’s been an Artist for as Long as She Can Remember

Her earliest memories growing up around Detroit, Michigan are of drawing and coloring. Luckily, her parents were always very supportive. In fact, her dad actually sculpted clay car models.

“So I think I was probably programmed from a very early age to become a car designer,” Jennifer said.

Despite these signs pointing her toward the automotive industry, Jennifer went into graphic design hoping to become an illustrator. She attributes her passion to her high school art teacher, who enthusiastically nurtured students’ creativity. Jennifer said her teacher encouraged them to pursue art careers, no matter what.

“She lit that fire inside me and made me who I was,” Jennifer said. “I wanted to create really strong imagery for children.”

Related: What Drives Her: Bogi Lateiner Is Empowering Women To Take Control Of Their Auto Repair Experience

Fox By Jennifer Kraska

Fox by Jennifer Kraska

Early On, Jennifer Learned the Importance of Fear

After two years in graphic design, she changed course and got sucked into the automotive world. It turns out, Jennifer Kraska was destined to be a designer after all. Taking after her father and filled with creative energy, it might seem like it all came naturally.

However, Jennifer wants to acknowledge that it has almost never been easy. She described herself as a painfully introverted young adult who doubted herself a lot in school. There was no guarantee she would get through the program, but she dove in and never looked back.

“It was exciting. It was terrifying,” Jennifer said. “I decided, I’m just going to do this afraid.”

Jennifer graduated from the College of Creative Studies in Detroit and got her first job at General Motors directly out of college. The first interior Jennifer helped design was that of the Pontiac G6. It still holds a near and dear place in her heart. However, she has moved on to even larger projects such as Chevy’s new EV lineup.

Related: What Drives Her: Meet Hannah Dunbar, The Color and Trim Designer Behind the 2023 GMC Yukon Denali Ultimate

Gm Design Immersive Tech Interior Virtual Design Experience With Chevrolet Interior Design Director, Jennifer Kraska

GM Design Immersive Tech interior virtual design experience with Chevrolet Interior Design Director, Jennifer Kraska

A Huge Promotion Let Jennifer Accomplish Her Wildest Dreams

Jennifer Kraska finally achieved her role as Director of Design at Chevy Interiors in October of 2021. Although she was an unwitting leader, Jennifer knew the position allowed her to dream larger than herself and inspire others.

“I was like the dog that finally caught her tail. I have all that influence and inspiration that I wanted to pass along, all the ideas that I wanted to try,” Jennifer explained. “Now I can do it! We can make the change.”

Jennifer is excited to work with Chevy’s diverse portfolio of car designs, from Corvettes to full-size SUVs (like the Tahoe she drives). She has always leaned toward loud, extraordinary colors, envisioning Chevy’s newest lineups in bold colors, patterns, and silhouettes while still holding true to Chevy at their core.

“It brings me joy. I’m just happier to be in something that has a pop of color in it,” Jennifer said.

Cardinal By Jennifer Kraska

Cardinal by Jennifer Kraska

Staying Creative, Even Off the Job

In addition to her work as director of design, Jennifer is a watercolor artist. In her free time, she expresses herself creatively through drawings and watercolor painting. Although she paints a variety of animals and whimsical styles, the main focus of her watercolor exploration is on birds.

“As long as I can remember, I’ve always liked drawing,” Jennifer said. “I still paint on my own time. I still create.”

Jennifer Kraska With The Cadillac Escala

Jennifer Kraska with the Cadillac Escala

Creating the Designers of the Future

Additionally, Jennifer is part of GM’s “You Make A Difference” program. The program is a seven-week course that exposes 7th to 12th-grade students to the design process. It teaches them automotive sketching and sculpting alongside mentors and professionals, such as Jennifer.

She says all the women and girls pursuing a career in automotive need to take advantage of GM’s educational opportunities.

Not only is it rewarding for me to see the progress they make, but I think it’s going to stick with them,” Jennifer said. “I hope to see them as new designers here.”

Jennifer In Peru

Jennifer in Peru

Accomplishing the impossible with GM

Jennifer’s job has enabled her to do things she never thought possible, such as making a living off her creativity and exploring new countries. Jennifer wants to inspire other designers to be bold and put their ideas out there into the world. She is a strong believer that mistakes, fear, and sadness are an important part of pursuing what you love.

This can be an emotional job sometimes because we put so much into our designs. It takes a long time to develop a vehicle, and if something doesn’t go as planned, it’s ok to be upset about that,” Jennifer explained. “If you didn’t get upset about it, I’d question if you’re in the right business.”

And what about those butterflies Jennifer Kraska gets before every presentation, even after 25 years in the industry?

“That’s okay because I know I still care about what I’m talking about.”

Eden is a freelance writer and editor. She is based in Austin, Texas where she is pursuing a bachelor's... More about Eden Shamy