SGMW’s creative design director fills us in on what it’s like for design students in China

Colin Phipps joined SGMW in September 2016 [from Cadillac], where he was charged with the development of the Baojun and Wuling brands in China, with a creative staff of more than 250 young, international and Chinese designers. Most recently, Colin has joined the GM China Global Advanced Design team as Director of Design. Based in Shanghai, the team there supports GM’s global brand initiatives.

“Our job is to leverage the voice of the customers here, this is a strategically important market, by volume, and is one of the fastest growing for GM now,” he told CDN when we caught up with him for coffee in Shanghai.

Given the fierce competition for talented designers in China right now, the creative leader of a studio can be the differentiating factor for young designers. Colin also spent 14 years teaching at the prestigious College for Creative Studies and remains intensely curious about the world around him.

When CDN met him in September this year, his enthusiasm for Shanghai and Chinese universities was infectious. “When we hire new design staff from local universities in China, we are looking for unique creative voices. Some of the creative staff come from as far north as Harbin and as west as Shanxi and the insights from these different parts of the country are considerable. It makes each team member unique and they bring different creative insights to the table.”


GM Advanced Design’s studio is located at GM China’s Global Headquarters, which sits on the Pudong side of the Bund in Shanghai, and is one of the few studios in that area – so far – as most sit on the Puxi side of the Bund. It is in a cool area and is responsible for providing input on our global brands.

“Some of our design staff come from Shanghai while others don’t, and that creative mix of cultures within the studio seasons the quality of the design we do. Each individual brings their own independent perspective.”

Colin and some of his design staff travel regularly to visit universities around China – seven this year. When CDN spoke to Colin they had just returned from a visit to Southwest Jiaotong University in Western Sichuan province. The mix of design and technology at Universities, like Southwest Jiaotong, are benefitting the students a lot. Colin shared:

“Some of the facilities have 3D printers in the classrooms, so the students are able to sketch and then immediately go and build something in the computer and realise it in 3D. When I was a student, that process was stretched out over a scale of two or three weeks. At places like Jiaotong University, they can make stuff within the class period.”

“If you think about what that means to be a student designer today – testing 2D theories out by realising them in 3D, and the more times over you repeat that process the better and smarter you become – it is pretty amazing. This process now has become super compressed, so a student’s growth curve will accelerate exponentially because of technology in the class room. In a lot of ways, universities in China are very prepared.”


“As Universities grow and expand to meet today’s requirements, a continued focus on design fundamentals should be nurtured in harmony with these advancements. Encouraging designers to be brave and bold will ensure an exciting future!”

In this year’s Car Design Awards China brief, GM is asking Chinese students to design an ‘icon’ for the year 2050 using one of GM’s global brands. Colin revealed that he thinks, with new way of considering mobility, this is an exciting time to be a design student at the moment.

“I can’t imagine what it is like for a student now coming into a landscape where all these factors like autonomy and electrification are completely recalibrating everything… Those two factors alone are already changing paradigms and preconceived notions of, how a car is constructed and utilised. It has to be a really exciting time to be a student, and for me it is interesting that in five-to-seven years from now we see them evolve into professional designers as they make their contribution to the evolution of mobility.”

We completely agree. For more information about the Car Design Awards China competition, go to The last day for registering for the competition is January 11, 2019.