I’m doing my A levels and my dream is to become a car designer. Should I do an engineering course at university or will transport design/industrial design benefit me further? What should I include in my portfolio?
You can pursue either industrial design, mechanical engineering, automobile engineering or transport design. You can study transportation (automotive) design or industrial design in college, but bear in mind that whilst hundreds of institutes offer industrial design, there are not more than 20 that offer transportation design. This makes it an extremely competitive programme with exacting entry requirements.
It may be best to compare the four-year core programme requirements of each course and then take a call on what suits you best. It is beneficial to select one that offers a placement year during your undergraduate degree. Industrial design programmes require candidates to submit a portfolio with their application but this is not so with other engineering courses.
In each of these programmes you have to make the right choice with the electives such as 3D design and modelling, design theory and vehicle systems to ensure you develop skills required to be an automobile designer. In choosing the place to study, ensure the college has strong links with design and car companies where designers can be involved as interns, work with professionals and gain real-life experience. Some colleges may have strong engineering bias others may have state-of-the-art studios. Try to visit the schools before making a final selection.
A car designer is required to blend design and styling skills with engineering ergonomics and marketing. Students study form and function and need to create concepts that offer style with enhanced functions.
Creative and artistic talent is essential for admission to transport design. So is fluency with numbers and flair for engineering. While you should be comfortable and familiar with computer-aided software it is your natural talent to make 2D drawings that will be critical to your admission. If you’re not comfortable with maths or engineering then car designing may not be the right career choice.
Designers need to work within the framework of the regulations but still create a product which is safe, aesthetic, comfortable and functional.
Having said that, it is a misconception that you need to be an engineer to be able to design cars. The skills sets required for each job are quite different – designers need to be creative while engineers tend to be rational and analytical. Bear in mind that in most car companies the ratio of engineers to designers is 20:1 so there are higher chances of being hired as an engineer. Companies look for people with creative skills and mechanical knowledge as they will be well-rounded designers.
Good communication skills along with the ability to express your thoughts in writing is a prerequisite as research reports or dissertations often form a key element of final year studies. With the best design schools and car companies being located worldwide, learning a foreign language will be a major asset.
In creating your portfolio as a designer, you need to demonstrate your creativity and innovation within a theme laid down by the big car manufacturers. Ford for example, uses a theme called Kinetic Design. The design centres on the idea of a motionless object appearing as though it is moving. This theme influences the design of every Ford car, from sportier models like the Focus ST to family focused models like the 4x4.
In the US, some students also opt to do the two-year associate degree at a community college with emphasis on industrial design. This will help them acquire the basic training required to enter the field of design either as design assistants or model makers. On completion they can either apply to university or enter the job market.
The University of Michigan, Coventry University, Pforzheim School of Design, IED, College for Creative Studies (Detroit), SPD, Umeå school of Design, and Royal College of Art (UK) are some of the leading schools that offer transport or automotive design courses.