Alumni Stories

Michelle Christensen: Making history as Acura’s first female exterior car designer

Degree:
BS 05 Transportation Design

Yes, transportation design is still an industry dominated by males. But things are changing and these days. Female designers, while still a minority, are no longer a rarity.

One of the more dramatic success stories of recent memory is Transportation Design alumna Michelle Christensen, who graduated from ArtCenter in 2005. While still a student at the College, Christensen began working on a groundbreaking design that caught the attention of Acura recruiters. Immediately after graduating, she was hired at Acura and became that company’s first female exterior car designer.

In junior high I learned about exterior car design; it was the perfect melding of my interests in design, cars, and working with my hands.

She spent the next several years transforming her class project into what eventually became the groundbreaking 2010 Acura ZDX crossover vehicle. She then became the first woman to design a supercar, overseing the exterior design of Acura's smash-hit 2016 NSX.  "It looks fast even when it is parked," Acura General Manager Mike Accavitti told the Los Angeles Times. "It is the ultimate expression of the Acura brand."

What made Christensen interested in designing cars? “Growing up, my interests ranged from sketching prom dresses for friends to wanting to work in a pit crew for a racing team,” Christensen told Marie Claire in 2010. “In junior high I learned about exterior car design; it was the perfect melding of my interests in design, cars, and working with my hands.”

Later that same year, in an episode of the online show Moto-Man that focused exclusively on the ZDX, Christensen told host George Notaras that she first became aware of ArtCenter and car design as a profession when her dad, at a Bay Area car show, pointed out Art Center alumnus Chip Foose TRAN ’90 in the crowd.

“I asked him who Chip Foose was and he said, ‘He’s a car designer,” said Christensen. ‘And I thought, whoa, pump the brakes, he’s a what? I want to do that!”

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