Her mother taught her to draw, she then created an iconic GM logo – Detroit Free Press

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GM revealed the new electric Hummer EV using this ad right before half time during the Super Bowl in February. USA TODAY Handout

General Motors creative designer Bianca Iacopelli comes from a long line of artists. Her grandfather is a painter and sculptor and her mother is an illustrator.

Iacopelli, 29, started drawing at age 5 and, given her genes, sensed her calling early.

“I can’t claim I was naturally gifted, who was a Picasso at 5 years old? But I started off with an advantage because my mom was talented,” Iacopelli said. “I definitely always imagined myself doing art for a living. I didn’t know in what aspect, but I knew I found a lot of joy in art.”

Iacopelli has found a way to make a living using her love of art. She designs badges, logos and other graphics at GM. These are images the average consumer likely doesn’t realize an artist created, but they are critical in conveying to consumers a brand statement.

Iacopelli had designed a handful of car badges, when in May 2019, four years into her tenure, she was chosen to work on one of GM’s most important new projects  — the revival of  the Hummer nameplate.

“It was a creative challenge to look at something so established and create a whole new image around this new vehicle,” Iacopelli said. “It’s unique, it’s revolutionary, it’s all-electric, it’s zero emissions and we have to translate that visually.”

A mother’s gift

Iacopelli has cars in her blood just as much as art in her genes. She grew up in Sterling Heights, in the shadow of GM’s Technical Center in Warren, never imagining working there.

“I’ve always felt like GM only hired a particular set of skills and that was my narrow mind thinking they’re never going to hire me unless I’m an engineer or I have marketing expertise,” Iacopelli said. 

She found little joy in math or science. But she thrived on creativity and had a keen interest in art, thanks to her mother.

“That’s where it started for me. She was an extremely talented illustrator. She used to keep a sketchbook that she’d draw cartoon characters, Disney prints and really interesting drawings,” Iacopelli said. “I used to go through her book every day.”

Iacopelli would search for blank pages where, “I would start to replicate what she drew on that blank page and practice against her template,” she said.

Her mother, Kristine Iacopelli, 56, never had a career in art because she focused on raising her daughter and her siblings. But she did pass on her knowledge.

“I’d rip pages out of coloring books and I’d say, ‘Mom, I love this character can you draw it?’ ” Iacopelli said. “She would sit down, draw it and walk me through ways to draw the features and the hands.”

Likewise, her grandfather, Peter Palazzolo, 89, further nurtured her creativity. An immigrant from Italy, he also never practiced art for a living, but, “Every time we’re over there, he is putting some kind of sculpture or art work or invention together,” Iacopelli said. “All he does is art now that he’s retired.”

‘A valued degree at GM’

In 2013, Iacopelli earned a bachelor ofarts degree in graphic design from College for Creative Studies in Detroit. This past May, she got her master’s in sustainable design from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

She wanted to use art to promote a “greater cause” in the world.

“I wanted my art to be translated into something that would be communicated worldwide,” Iacopelli said. “To me, graphic design was a future and forward career that translated drawing on paper to a platform that was digital and had meaning and communication behind it.”

When she first considered a job with GM, she realized she might be able to apply her aptitude for art at a car company and use it to promote sustainability. GM intends to be an all-electric company one day in both the vehicles it sells and how it powers its facilities. 

“It wasn’t until I interviewed that I realized an art degree was an extremely valued degree at GM design,” she said. “That’s when I realized, ‘Wow, I could really see myself working here.’ “

GM hired her full-time in 2015.

Reviving Hummer

In May of last year Iacopelli got her big break. The automaker was planning to revive the Hummer nameplate and looked to her for help.

GM discontinued the Hummer brand of hulking off-road trucks in 2009 when the company entered federal bankruptcy. The brand’s vehicles were visually striking gas guzzlers with a cult following.

But GM plans to put the name on an all-electric GMC pickup that goes on sale late next year. For GM to pin the Hummer name to an environmentally friendly truck would be tricky. Iacopelli must convey a green image without losing the machismo behind the name’s heritage.

“The bulk of our work was working on this already established branding and translating it to the branding characteristics that were up and coming,” Iacopelli said. “We’re building this brand off of what’s already been put out.”

After months of research, meetings and multiple iterations of possible logos, she and her team finally said, “That’s the one. That’s the one that speaks to us the best.”

The logo is instantly memorable. GM revealed it right before halftime during the Super Bowl in February. The image is simple, but powerful. Two headlights pierce straight-on and the word HUMMER is written across a softly lit grille, all shrouded in black.

“We kept the all-cap lettering to keep the brand integrity. Yet it has a modern-geometric logo,” Iacopelli said. “So when a customer sees it, it has strong legs to it … and conveys that this is the future.”

‘Larger than life’ branding

Iacopelli said working on the Hummer logo was exciting and she feels “incredibly honored” because it was so different from anything else she’s done previously.

Brand design at auto companies and other corporations is an increasingly in-demand career for creative people, said Susan LaPorte, chair of the Communication Design Department at Center for Creative Studies. 

To do it well, brand designers consider the tangible assets of a brand, such as the logo, color, type and image associated with it, then align that with the brand’s intangible assets, such as its values or mission, to help make a product desirable to consumers, LaPorte said.

“In short, if a brand image is memorable or recognizable, and seems in line with your image of the brand, then that communication designer did their job,” LaPorte said. “Apple and Nike are two obvious larger-than-life brands that have done a great job of managing their tangible and intangible assets that make their products much sought after.”

An ‘a’ in STEM

Iacopelli is now the lead designer for the badges on Chevrolet’s future SUVs and electric vehicles.

She is also mentoring, encouraging young designers and artists to look beyond traditional art careers and to consider corporate jobs where there are leaders who value an art background.

“I’d like to add an “a” to STEM and see more artists join GM or other corporations,” Iacobelli said.

While designing logos and badging is not a “real noticeable thing,” she takes pride in it. “When I see that badging, when I’m driving down the street, I’m proud of that,” Iacopelli said. “I can say I did that.”

So can her two biggest fans: Mom and grandpa, “They’re the first to speak my accolades.”

Contact Jamie L. LaReau at 313-222-2149 or jlareau@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @jlareauan. Read more on General Motors and sign up for our autos newsletter.

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