Some schools offer degree programs specifically in transportation design, while others have an industrial design section that offers a concentration in transportation. As there are many aspirants wishing to pursue a career in auto design, coupled with relatively few educational programs of this type offered, getting into a good and reputable school can be very competitive. Students might contemplate first earning an associate degree in industrial design, as this will enable the student to see if this career path resonates, and it also offers a less expensive way to build up a design portfolio. Doing well at the trade school or community college level before applying to an automobile design program might be the smart choice for many. Again, having an impressive portfolio of car designs cannot be over emphasized.
A bachelor’s degree in transportation design normally requires four years to complete. During the first two years, the focus is on the fundamentals of design, drawing skills (both 2D and 3D), the investigation of interior and exterior design of cars, and the latest technology being the thrust of study. The last two years of instruction are devoted to model-making and various design projects with an emphasis in hands-on studio work. Many programs include computer training for drafting with CAD programs.
SOME OPTIONS FOR AUTOMOBILE DESIGN SCHOOLING
When considering schools, keep in mind that any of the colleges and universities that are actively involved in Formula SAE (FSAE), Supermileage, or Clean Snowmobile competitions would be an excellent way to narrow down the field of choices, especially if engineering is also your focus. Schools that have been a part of the DARPA Grand Challenge to produce driverless, automated vehicles or competed in the Automotive X Prize competition to create ever-cleaner, performance-oriented, and fuel-efficient cars would also be encouraged.
Two top tier examples of design-specific schools with extraordinary instruction and with established connections to industry heavy weights are Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA and College of Creative Studies in Detroit, MI in the United States. Outside of the U.S., Coventry University and Royal College of Art, both in the UK, are fantastic schools.
GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR
As with any budding artist, regardless of the medium, a professional portfolio with a variety of the best and most noteworthy work is absolutely essential for an automobile designer. It is used to show the designer’s creativity and capabilities, and it can help with gaining employment and/or entrance to graduate school. Associate and bachelor’s programs include creation and development of a portfolio, but it’s important to keep working on and adding to it over time.
In order to continue developing one’s portfolio and to add more hands-on experience as well as design skill prowess, it may behoove those who have completed their undergraduate studies to seek out a graduate degree in automotive design or a similar area of study. Doing so can help to make the job-seeker more competitive, or it can perhaps enhance an existing career. Earning a Master of Industrial Design degree or an MFA in a related studies program can take up to an additional 4 years. These programs demand rigorous and intensive research with an emphasis on design experience in real-world conditions. Projects are assigned or concocted by the student. Often, internships are a terrific way to greatly enhance the designer’s overall competence and knowledge of current design practices and business norms.
Those who attain the appropriate level of education and training necessary will obviously be seeking employment with car-makers and support companies that provide assistance in specialized areas of car design. A school that has an established rapport and connection to these kinds of companies will be most helpful to graduates ready to seek careers in the industry.
In the end, what truly matters to those who are in the position to hire is not so much about where you attended school, but ultimately about what you can accomplish for them. Auto companies, suppliers, and other car-related companies are looking for people with practical experience and, of course, an inherent and genuine passion for design. Those who have concrete examples of extraordinary work to share will often have a leg up on the competition. For example, if you have a working vehicle that you designed and put together in your spare time, or if you have done custom work in a previous life in an auto body shop, or worked on restoring to mint condition a ‘70s pony car, you will likely gain more attention than someone who graduated from a prestigious school but with fewer hands-on, real-world examples to show for him or herself.
As Sherry suggests, finding someone in the industry who has reached the heights of success to which you aspire, someone who is kind enough to devote a little time and energy to guide and support you, can be a big boost. They are out there, and by networking at your school or by even something so simple as a letter requesting a professional’s mentorship, you can have positive results. There is certainly no downside in trying and then trying again. Persistence (and requisite talent) will always pay off.
As Alex shared, being familiar with the manufacturing process, getting hands-on experience, and obtaining a multi-disciplinary education will certainly make one vastly more employable in this industry.