Breaking Barriers: Meet the Female Designer Leading Design Innovation at Ford

design innovation ford
Ford Australia

In a 2021 study conducted by the Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), it was revealed that the automotive industry is still an extremely male-dominated industry and although women account for roughly half of the Australian workforce, just one in 20 positions in the auto industry is currently held by women. We all know that women are more than capable of holding these positions, and we also know that boosting women’s ability to participate in the workforce is crucial for both personal security and also, it’s just great for the economy.

A crucial part of tackling the gender divide in the auto industry is to expand our perception of job opportunities beyond trades (although, obviously women can more than handle these jobs too). Areas like design, HR, sales, engineering, and finance are just a few of the areas that women can not only contribute, but thrive, in the auto industry.

According to Suzanne Gold, the Colour, Material and Finish Design Manager for Ford IMG (International Markets Group), she hasn’t the sting of working with only male colleagues in her time working in the Melbourne Design Studio. “During my time with Ford Australia, we had a female President and CEO, and our current International Markets Group President is female,” she tells POPSUGAR Australia.

In her role leading the Colour and Materials team at Ford, Gold admits that it’s a discipline within the design studio that could traditionally be viewed as female-dominated.

“In more recent years, I have seen an increased communication around the subject of gender equity within Ford,” she said. “Ford is aware that we are up against challenges of being a male-dominated industry and our leadership team is working to address these issues to attract and promote women. I have had the opportunity to participate in several valuable events with Ford’s “Professional Women’s Network” which runs networking and career development opportunities for women.”

Most recently, Gold worked on the Next Generation Ranger, which is coming to market in 2022. We were keen to find out exactly what goes into designing a brand-new car and what that process is from the perspective of a woman who’s leading the innovation of such a specific area in the automotive sector in Australia.

POPSUGAR Australia: Hi Suzanne, thanks so much for chatting with us! Can you please tell me how got into the car design industry and explain what your role involves?

Suzanne Gold: I am currently the Colour, Material and Finish Design Manager for Ford IMG (International Markets Group), based in the Melbourne Design Studio.

I started my career studying Industrial Design specialising in Textile Design and Manufacturing. Originally, this led me into the textile and fashion industry in the UK and US, then onto product sourcing roles based in India.

I moved into the Automotive industry by chance when I relocated to Australia. It was exciting to see Australia had a strong manufacturing industry and I could get back to my passion for textiles and design. Prior to my role at Ford, I was developing textiles for the various Australian Automotive Manufacturers and from this, I knew I wanted to influence and work on the entire vehicle within an automotive design studio.

PS: What would you say to anyone who said the Ranger is only for men?

SG: I would have to disagree. I do currently drive today’s Ranger and love the convenience and capability it provides. I can’t wait to drive the all-new Ranger!

Many of our research respondents were women. Our research and their insights played a key role in our design choices. Our female respondents also resonated with the strong and robust nature of the vehicle. We’re confident this Ranger encompasses the right balance of tough, safe and stylish that female consumers are looking for.

PS: I read that Ford conducted 5,000 interviews with customers while creating the new Ford Ranger, to gain insights into exactly what they want in a car. How did this process influence the final design of the vehicle?

SG: The team listened to our customers and spent time with them, we watched how they used and interacted with their vehicles, to understand their goals, what they liked and disliked, or any pain points they had.  

It was clear our customers were using the vehicles for multiple scenarios including work, family, and play, often all in one day. This meant it was critical the vehicle design and execution catered for the versatility of use. We had to deliver a strong work-based vehicle as well as ensure we could offer derivatives tailored more to lifestyle usage through styling and feature content.

For the Colour and Material Design Team, this meant ensuring the essentials were done well. We developed new durable grains and materials with an increased refinedness and premium aesthetic. This provided a well-executed “canvas” allowing us the scope to dial-up or down the performance attributes and aesthetics of the materials and finishes to create product differentiation.

Customer feedback also influenced the styling, and a key example is the integration of technology within the interior. You will see the screen is larger than the previous model. During our research, different executions were trialled including more of a floating screen position. This did not resonate with our customers and led to a more cohesive integration of technology throughout the interior including the secure and protected integrated screen within the Instrument Panel.

PS: What were the key insights these consumers gave you and did any surprise you?

SG: Interestingly across the various regions and markets we found a lot of our customers had very similar likes and dislikes. We received quite a consistent message and consumers were aligned on how they thought the Ranger should look and make them feel. This meant that a global truck design approach was possible.

Another key insight was our customers like to solve their own problems and want to feel confident in their vehicles. They wanted a vehicle that is a combination of ruggedness, toughness, luxury, style and safety.

PS: How could this car suit a young woman who lives closer to the city?

SG: The large touch screen is linked to a 360-degree camera to make parking easier in tight urban situations.

The Ranger’s interior has a new modern feel. Special attention was given to new materials and more soft-touch surfaces. So much thought went into making the interior user friendly with greater convenient storage space.

Through our research clinics, we received feedback for our customers’ preference for less chrome. We have pared back the amount of brightwork with surface detailing that allowed for a more balanced and considered placement. We replaced bright accents with a more modern darker gloss or satin execution which has resonated with the younger and urban customers.

PS: Can you please explain how the Ranger is well-suited to families?

SG: From a design perspective the Ranger has been developed for versatile usage. You’ll find the interior plush but with the multipurpose of work, family, and play in mind. We paid close attention to the materials inside the cabin as we know Ranger is a workhorse as well as a family or recreational vehicle. The seat materials for example are durable, easy to clean and fabric options were designed to hide marking but still be soft and comfortable for family use.

Our design team need to consider all occupants — not just the driver. As an example, the interior design maximised storage space throughout with open storage areas to help you keep items conveniently within reach as well as closed compartments to let you put things out of sight.

There is also the practical side of this vehicle suited to family use with the cargo area designed to help customers do more with increased functionality and better access.

If you’d like to see the new Ford Ranger for yourself, you can find all the information you need on the Ford Australia website.

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