Rising in the Ranks : How to Elevate Your Career in Automotive Design



Much is changing in the automotive industry. The conceptual autos that are displayed at shows around the world are indicative of the evolution occurring more and more rapidly every year. What does that mean for designers? It’s time to think outside the box.


Creativity is being celebrated now more than ever as automakers play with new ideas. This is a significant factor when considering an existing or new career in the automotive design realm. Designers are artists, with a unique specialization in the creation of something highly mechanical. A rare breed, automotive designers are tasked with developing daring concepts based on a finite set of rules that their creations must adhere to. This balance between artistry and logic is uncommon, and oftentimes designers admit to feeling stifled in the automotive space as the recreation of existing models is more of a task than a challenge. Only a portion of the designer’s ideas are considered practical enough to implement. Feedback is not always given, and concepts developed over months are tossed into a file drawer in a matter of seconds. The industry commands a thick skin and resilience to accept that potential fate, while maintaining a creative energy that is optimistic and able to stretch beyond what is typical.


Today, the industry is looking for those dramatic differences, designs that embrace a futuristic feel, modernization and efficiency at the forefront. Autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles and even conventional vehicles are requiring more technology, more intelligence and more luxury than ever before. Sensors are being added throughout the vehicle, this information is being used and displayed in different visual aids and indicators. User interfaces for audio, climate control and navigation are becoming more intuitive with more features. These requirements create an opportunity for designers to reinvent the way the auto appears and feels. Similarly, the interior is now expected to come with more luxurious textures, from leather seats to interior trim pieces. The flow from the exterior to the interior needs to be more fluid and connected.  From lighting to color, exterior lines to interior finishes, consumers are looking for the wow factor.


To elevate your career in automotive design, here are some important steps to follow:


  1. Know the consumer. Design with the end-user in mind. Consider unique expectations for that vehicle and over-exaggerate these features. Highlight your ability to innovate and redefine the driver and passenger experience.
  2. Know the maker. Align your concepts with the goals and ambitions of the company. Consider their mission, their position in the marketplace, and embellish these traits. Whether it’s a technological approach or a softer more luxurious approach, illustrate that in ways they’ve never seen.
  3. Know yourself. Trust your instincts and your creative energy. What is appealing to you is likely going to appeal to others.
  4. Be bold and practical. This may be easier when designing an entirely new concept. A blank canvas is yours to work with, but when designing based upon an existing model/platform, there are more constraints. In either case, present multiple options to allow the company to ease into your vision.
  5. Be confident. No matter what, maintain your composure and confidence. Sometimes those conceptual ideas you have won’t be adopted until years down the road. Keep refining your craft and be patient.


Designing in the automotive industry requires a unique skillset, an eye for style and an understanding of physics. Hone your skills, get trained in the latest design tools, innovate and imagine, and remember for whom you are designing. If you do this, you will realize your potential and new opportunities will present themselves.


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