posted on April 9th, 2019

Like most people, Mia Eum didn’t know much about CMF (colors, material, finish) Design before she was working in it. These days, she’s a designer at Faraday Future, the slick electric vehicle start-up, where she helps design the futuristic feel of their luxury vehicles. It might surprise you to learn that she landed here after making a pie chart in her mid-twenties of how she spent her time, and realizing that the majority of her life would be working and sleeping. “So I figured I’d better find a job I was really passionate about,” she says.

Passion for design

After doing some research, Mia learned about product design and was immediately struck by its pervasiveness. “I was like, ‘Wow, I could be a part of designing anything, from a pen to to the interior of a rocket ship, and it would affect its function.’” Mia expresses a kind of embarrassment around her enchantment with material objects and her pickiness about aesthetic, but they ultimately led her to study Product Design at the Art Center College of Design in LA.

It wasn’t until she was on a study abroad trip in Berlin — “You know, it’s Berlin, you spend all day getting to know your classmates, drinking beer, waiting in line at Berghain” — that a fellow design student, who was interested in footwear (another popular application for CMF design), introduced her to her future field. He suggested that her sensitivity to color and materials might make her perfectly suited to CMF design, so she decided to find out.

Back at school, with no formal curriculum for studying CMF, Mia began blazing her own path of study. She needed an internship to graduate from her program, and found a supportive mentor in her advisor, Karen, who called in some favors to get Mia an internship at Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles in Michigan. “And I have to admit that I was hesitant to do an internship in the automotive field. I didn’t relate to masculine gearhead culture. There was some beef between the transportation and product design students. But I really needed to do it.”

Mia enjoying her work

The subtle side of auto

Whatever fears Mia had, however, were dispelled as soon as she walked into her new internship. “The CMF team at Fiat-Chrysler was awesome! It was the most female-focused office in the design department, and that was eye-opening to me. Just because I was working in automotive didn’t mean I had to work in a male dominant culture! Everyone came from different design backgrounds, and office talk was as more about fashion shows and the catwalk than car specs.”

If you’ve ever been inside of a car, you’ve interacted with the work of CMF design. Everything from the console where you hold your coffee to the finish on your seat cushion and the shape of the steering wheel has been thoughtfully considered and developed. “CMF design isn’t highly acknowledged, it’s not glamorous,” Mia says. “When it’s done well and thoughtfully, you shouldn’t notice it. If you were in a short skirt and sat on a leather seat and your skin didn’t stick to it, you wouldn’t stop to wonder about the leather. It’s human nature to pay attention to flaws,” Mia says. That can make for difficult work. But the ability to create a nearly invisible force guiding you through the process of driving or riding in a car, is a strength that Mia sees women bringing to CMF design. “We know how to touch a lot of details in a car to make an impact.”

Now that she’s working for the slick, design-focused EV startup Faraday Future, Mia admits that the design brief is a little different. “The brand image at Faraday is futuristic, opulent. So we do want the interior to stand out, and be a little more ostentatious. It’s incredibly fun. It’s like a student’s dream project — it’s the way you’d design before you get crushed by hard realities like budget constraints and supplier support.”

From the inside out

And now that Mia’s been enmeshed in the automotive industry, she’s come to realize a few things about herself. “The first thing I have to admit is that I grew up in LA, so I always liked cars more, and had stronger opinions than I thought,” she starts. The second is that doing CMF design has shown her a new way to appreciate cars. “Not everyone who loves cars has to be a part of power-driven, gearhead car culture,” she adds.

Mia is drawn to the timeless, classic designs in older European cars and appreciates the small, custom details in vintage models that wouldn’t be made today. “It’s not shameful for me to like cars anymore,” Mia says with a laugh. “I can dork out about a car in my own way and it seems like other people are into it too.”

If you want to dork out about the interior stylings, details, and designs of Mia’s favorite cars on Turo, visit the Lady Boss page.

Kamala Puligandla is a writer and an editorial assistant at Turo. She is always on the hunt for a strange story, a great snack, and the perfect outdoor spot to consume them.