Meet the Black Interior Designer Behind GM's First Fully-Electric Cadillac SUV

Meet the Black Interior Designer Behind GM’s First Fully-Electric Cadillac SUV

Crystal Windham GM Cadillac
Crystal Windham, Cadillac’s Interior Design Director

Cadillac added luxury and style to its new electric vehicle thanks in large part to a Black woman.

Earlier this month, General Motors unveiled its first fully-electric SUV, the Lyriq. To compete with rival luxury electric vehicle makers like Tesla, the Lyriq offers a number of innovative features as well as a sleek and lavish feel.

First mentioned in January 2019 at the Detroit auto show, the all-electric two-row SUV has the ability to park itself and pull out of a parking space on its own with no one inside. It is also equipped with GM’s advanced Super Cruise semi-autonomous driving system, which allows drivers to completely take their hands off the steering wheel on major highways. In addition, the Lyriq can drive more than 300 miles on a single charge.

Slated to go into production in late 2022, the midsize crossover also includes a massive 33-inch curved glass screen on the interior and advanced lighting technology on the exterior.

Cadillac LYRIQ
The Cadillac LYRIQ (General Motors)

BLACK ENTERPRISE spoke to Crystal Windham, who was appointed as Cadillac’s Interior Design Director in 2016, about the unique design of the Lyriq.

“When you are given the opportunity to open the door for Lyriq — everything that you interact with, whether it be touch, explore, or discover — I led several teams that go into that experience,” says Windham, who joined GM back in 1994. More than a decade later, she was named as the first African American woman Director of Interior Design in GM’s history in 2008. Since then she has spearheaded award-winning interiors like the 2016 Chevrolet Malibu and the 2014 Chevrolet Impala.

General Motors
The Cadillac LYRIQ (General Motors)

BE: What makes the design of the Lyriq different from previous designs?

Windham: Very good question. I have been working for Cadillac for over four years and this is the first full-electric vehicle off of this platform. It really allows us to pivot our portfolio in a new direction. We are given the opportunity to elevate the brand while paying homage to our rich heritage. We can celebrate and respect the past in the interior and exterior while focusing on the future.

The fact that it’s battery-electric, we can carve out different spaces within the vehicle. We were able to carve out space down the center of the interior. The center console allowed for a very striking platform for the component to sit on. Also, the lower area is open. You can put a handbag there. To me, having a place for a handbag is extremely important and women ask for that. Now, we have the opportunity to make it right at your fingertip.

To celebrate even more space, we have a center-stacked drawer and a bin for smaller items. We wanted to make sure that the occupant and driver can sit in their zone and have a clear view of the road and have everything at an arm’s length.

This is a dream for me. We are able to make the interior more youthful, useful, dynamic, and premium. We didn’t just stop at creating the space. We did every detail. The lighting, the stitching, [and] the materials. I call it layers of discovery.

BE: Who is this car best suited for?

I’m proud to say that our customers for Lyriq will expand far and wide. I look at the team and we reflect our customer base. It is extremely diverse — from thought perspective, ethnicity, age, and background. I like to think that we can attract the young to the old, just like our teams. We have different colors and functionality plus comfort and amenity that will attract different buyers. Our design environment is simple and easy to love but not boring!

For technology, we can attract both ends of the spectrum. It’s hard to keep the balance of going virtual with buttons but we made it easy to understand and follow. We just wanted to make sure that all aspects of the vehicle can cover a large bandwidth of customers.

Since we are Cadillac, we hope to attract premium customers. We find that even the youth and the more seasoned customers globally can be different and we take that into account.

GM electric SUV
Cadillac LYRIQ (General Motors)

BE: How has your perspective and identity as a Black woman influenced your work and the design?

As African Americans, Cadillac has a huge impact on our culture. When you drive a Cadillac, you have arrived. It is a symbol of success and we want that to continue. And with that, I say I bring a sense of pride. Not necessarily trendy pride, I want us to move the world and influence the industry. It was a great honor to be in the position to help elevate the brand in this way. We love fashion, we love style, we love to have a little flare, and something unique. I feel that is me and I bring that [to my work].

As a female, we wear so many hats. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister. When we come into our vehicles, we want them to be a certain way and be about business. I bring that perspective when designing the team, the handbag holder, and when embracing the team as a leader.

I love technology. I embrace it as it shifts and changes. I like to be one of the first to explore. I do not like to be left behind, I want to be at the forefront and lead it. This is what I bring as a leader in the team.

I have a high tolerance for trying new things. There is a certain level of patience and guts needed in order to be the first. When you want to be innovative and elevate the brand, you have to be the first.

electric car
Cadillac LYRIQ (General Motors)

BE: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Never forget that Cadillac is a premium brand and that on the interior side we wanted a strong foundation with beautiful surfacing, continuous dynamic lines, and simple design. It is simple, but it is far from boring.

We also wanted to make sure that the customer has this layer of discovery. The design possesses a visual and emotional appearance, allowing them to fall in love with their vehicle over and over again.

Everything is newly designed. The screen appears to float, the curvature echoes the interior wraparound-lines, the power mounted shifter is next to the steering wheel, the column shifter is right behind the steering wheel all which allows for more space


This interview was lightly edited for brevity and clarity.