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Celebrating women automobile designers – Mimi Vandermolen

What do false nails have to do with designing a car? Well, if you are a male automotive designer, it can help you put a finger (ahem) on what women are looking for in a car.

This was what Mimi Vandermolen, one of the best designers with Ford Motors  in its history, made the members of her team do when designing a car.

Mimi Vandermolen

Mimi Vandermolen joined  Ford Motors in 1970 as one of its first female designers.

Among her most notable works was the interior design of Ford’s 1986 Taurus. Vandermolen created ergonomic and tactile controls, replaced push-pull switches with rotary dials for climate function, and introduced buttons with raised bumps. She also introduced a curved dashboard to put all controls within easy reach of the driver.

Vandermolen ensured that the car seats were more ergonomic, taking more than two years to come up with a more supportive seat shape. The 1986 Taurus was praised for its user-friendly and innovative layout, and became the top-selling automobile in North America.

Mimi Vandermolen designed the interior of the 1986 Ford Taurus
The 1986 Ford Tarus with its elegant interior design by Mimi Vandermolen (Image)

In 1987, Vandermolen became the first woman to be promoted to Design Executive for Small Cars. This role involved overseeing the interior and exterior design developments for Ford Motors in North America. She also ran a special studio that looked into futuristic design concepts.

>>READ: The Wunder Women behind the BMW Z4

The first design that she helmed from concept to production was the second generation of the 1993 Ford Probe. Vandermolen aimed to improve the driving experience for women.  To get the male designers in the team to understand it from a woman’s POV, she had them work while wearing false nails.

I've threatened to make our men designers wear skirts while getting in and out of a car.

Explaining her radical approach, she told her boss: “If I can solve all the problems inherent in operating a vehicle for a woman, that’ll make it that much easier for a man to use.”

The result was a popular sports coupe with less bulky knobs, a lightweight trunk door and a lower front end that gave shorter women a clearer view of the road.

1993 Ford Probe designed by Mimi Vandermolen
1993 Ford Probe (Image)

Vandermolen continued to put her signature touches to Ford cars during her long tenure with the company. This included a “floating island” design for the instrument cluster in the 1996 Ford Taurus. Again, her design helped to make the car a huge success.

Besides her pioneering design work, Vandermolen was a founding member of the Ford Women’s Network, which pushed for greater diversity and supported women working in the company. By the time she retired in 2000, she has left an indelible mark in the automotive industry – fake nails or not.

NEXT: Helene Rother – In with design


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