Early Life

Mimi Vandermolen is one of the earliest women to become a part of the automobile industry. She was born in 1964 in Holland. Her interest in cars developed from her father. Her father had an inclination for motorbikes. He experimented with different parts to bring out better efficiency in a vehicle. This type of experimentation inspired Mimi as a child. Though an accident put an end to her father’s experiments, her passion for automobiles never diminished. Her uniqueness set her apart from other girls of her age.

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Her parents raised Mimi Vandermolen in Toronto. There she completed her graduation at Ontario College of Art and Design in 1969. Mimi Vandermolen pursued graduation in Industrial Design and was the first woman to do so in her college. The course inclined more towards home appliances rather than Automobiles and their designs. Yet, she had a preference for the vehicle design. She started in a home appliance company called Philco, previously owned by Ford.

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Mimi Vandermolen worked in Philco for home appliances and impressed her co-workers. In 1948, during World War II, many employees of the automobile company, who were men, left the company to go to the war. In that situation, women filled those vacancies. These women included Beth O’Rourke, Doris, Dickason, Florence Henderson, Erle Cambell, Letha Athan, but their term in Ford was short-lived. Later in 1970, Mimi Vandermolen was appointed as a full-time designer. Philco transferred her to the automobile side.

Initially, she worked as a trainee for Mustang 11. She was involved in both the exterior and interior of the design. Her initial works included sketching seats, instrument panels, and door panels. She was involved in building ratios with clay, later which was later aid to the senior designers. According to Mimi Vandermolen, she was welcomed wholeheartedly and never felt any resentment from men who worked there. She was not treated as an outsider but as a fellow designer. The trainees were a solid team who understood each other since they were in the same boat. They were given tasks and stars upon their accomplishment. There was healthy competition amongst all the trainees.

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Back in the day, trainees got laid off during the financial crisis. The same happened to Mimi Vandermolen in 1975 when she worked on Granada. There was an oil crisis in the automobile industry. As a result, she lost her job. But her spirit never went down. She did outsourced jobs for Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. Mimi worked in Chrysler for a few months but was hired back by Ford in March 1977. She joined the interior design studio that was working on Panther. She worked on Ford’s full-size sedan, which was one of its kind in those days.

Importance of Ergonomics

Mimi Vandermolen took a great leap and was promoted to a design specialist for Team Taurus in 1986. There she prominently worked on its interiors. Mimi was the first person to introduce the importance of ergonomics. She ensured to design a user-friendly design. Until now, designers concentrated on the comfort and convenience of the passenger seats and exterior aesthetics of a car. Mimi changed her path and thought towards the comfort of the driver and echoing interiors with the aesthetic exteriors.

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Vandermolen solutions concerning ergonomics are still in use, but they are neglected. The interior contained tactile controls that could be recognized by touch. Mimi introduced raised bumps to indicate on/up / closed, similarly, a depression indicating off /down/ open. The climate controls, which were previously push-pull buttons, were now replaced with rotary dials. Taurus, a family sedan, came with an optional instrument panel which seemed more convenient than the latter. Formerly cars had straight dashboards that did not seem feasible according to ergonomic standards. She and her team centralized all controls so that they were within easy reach. It took Mimi Vandermolen almost two and half years and over one lakh prototype testings to arrive at comfortable ergonomic seats. The experiment brought an extensive change in seating in later Ford vehicles.

The newly designed Taurus was then called the Rounded Edge Revolution. With her futuristic, user-friendly ideas, Mimi Vandermolen changed the interiors of cars in the future. Due to her dedication, hand working, and unending passion for designing cars, she reached new levels in the company. Mimi Vandermolen got promoted to design executive for small cars, both interiors, and exteriors, in 1987.  Later, she was further assigned to lead a whole project and became the first-ever woman to do.

The First Female Project Head

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Her role for the 1993 Probe included managing both the interiors and exteriors. Vandermolen led a team, which majorly consisted of women. It was a joint project with Mazda. She and a unit of engineering spent a year in Japan working on the design of the car. The team had an exclusive studio dedicated itself to developing futuristic design ideas. The new Ford Probe had a lightweight trunk door and a lowered front end to provide shorter women a better view of the road. Mimi Vandermolen took pride in focusing on women drivers and creating better designs for them.

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Mimi Vandermolen met a fellow designer Al Oren in Ford. She went out with him for two years and got married to him. She was an inspiration to many women who wanted to make a great difference.  With her dedication, passion, and little encouragement of men in her life, she achieved great heights. Her contribution to the automobile industry is immense. She is the principal reason who ensured driving is comfortable, convenient and fun.

Author

Vismai is a driven student leveraging studies in architecture and a keen observant of fine details in art forms who has had a passion for writing and poetry since forever. Along with sketches, she considers writing as a valuable tool to interpret buildings.

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