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How She Got There: Krysti Murphy, Lead Exterior Color Designer for Global General Motors Design

Name: Krysti Murphy
Age: 31
Job Title and Description: Lead Exterior Color Designer for Global General Motors Design
College Name/Major: Cleveland Institute of Art / B.F.A. in Industrial Design

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Krysti Murphy: Here at GM, with color and trim, we have quite a bit of responsibilities. With the interior side of things, we do a lot of materials with leathers, woods, metals, carbon fibers, and all sorts of different finishes and things. Also, color palettes for every vehicle. Then, we work extremely close with a lot of our actual designers on the interior and exterior studios. We also try to work with creating exterior colors, which is actually what I do. Then, also creating some exterior finishes. Color and trim is a pretty wide range of a lot of stuff from exterior to interior. Pretty much anything you touch is what we do. There really isn’t a typical day that I have. Monday is so different from Tuesday, but that’s one of the things I really enjoy about my job. It includes a lot of trend research, brand strategy, working with a lot of the studios and artisans in our shops—we like to call them our artisans. They’re our go-to people. I do a lot of collaboration with our paint suppliers and also our global team members. I work pretty closely with a lot of people from other regions from Korea to India to Germany, so it’s kind of hard to explain sometimes what my typical day is. It’s a very research-based job.

What is the best part of your job?

KM: There’s a lot of things I like about being an exterior color designer. Really one of the top things for me is when I develop a color and it hits the public roads and auto shows. It’s so rewarding to actually see some of the work that I do because with all of the research and creating color and stuff, we work three to five years out so it’s really cool to see the final color on the road. It’s pretty amazing to see it when it all comes to life.

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

KM: Everybody makes mistakes. When we do exterior color, it can get polarizing sometimes. A lot of people have opinions on color, but as a designer you’re always trying to sell your ideas. One mistake that I actually made was pretty early in my career because I had a very strong opinion on a specific color and I was kind of arguing that it needed to be here but I wasn’t able to back it up. So if you can’t back up what you’re fighting for, it gets tough. My director just kind of looked at me and was like, “No, you’re not going to get this because you’re not giving me a valid reason.” So, I learned pretty quickly you need to have a valid reason as to why you’re disagreeing with someone as well as why you want to agree with someone. That was pretty eye-opening.

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

KM: There are two things that are pretty significant for me. I’ve been here at GM for about six years. One of the first things I got to work on—I actually worked on the interior side a couple years before I moved to exterior paint—and I worked on the Cadillac XT5 when I first started. It’s so cool right now that it’s here right now on the road. You can see it. It was a really rewarding experience for me to actually see it at the auto shows when it debuted and now you can actually buy it. It was cool to be like, “I created that interior color scheme!”

Now being on the exterior side of things, working on the new Buick Avista, with that beautiful sapphire jewel blue that we created—it’s so cool to see how the public saw it and just standing there and watching people look at it was so magical for me. It’s hard to explain! It was so cool. It took a long time to develop this beautiful blue. That’s the fun part of exterior paint; you get to create something that’s so new.  

What is one thing about the industry that you wish you knew beforehand?

KM: For me, when I was a student back in college, I really wish I actually knew about color and trim. Where I went to school, there wasn’t an actual place that said, “Oh, you can work in color and trim and this is what you’ll do.” That would have influenced my decisions and what I wanted to do. I really wanted to know what this place was, that there was an actual job for color. I’ve enjoyed color my whole life, from when I was a young kid to going to an art school. It was so cool to find when I graduated, but it’s something I wish I would’ve known earlier.

What advice would you offer to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

KM: Love what you do. Find out what you really want to do and find your passion. If you’re really passionate about something, pursue it as a career. Select a school very carefully. For me, it was the Cleveland Institute of Art. You can find out more about the field you want to go into. For design, it’s very good to go to a design school and just really adapt an attitude of continuous learning—always learning, always looking at stuff and keeping your eyes open. Never keep them closed. Really for color and trim, you really want to be fresh with trends and resources. The internet’s a huge resource. Always keep learning and always grow. For me, it’s great to stand outside and take pictures and look at nature. Really it comes down to being passionate. If you’re passionate about what you’re going to do, you’re going to love it. 


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Follow Allison on Twitter @AllisonMCrist.
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