How to begin an automobile designer career - NewBalancejobs
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How to begin an automobile designer career

Written by Shedrack Idoghor

If you are an absolute ‘gearhead’ who loves almost any vehicle that rolls down the road on four wheels, thrive during collaborative tasks and if you are looking for a career that connects the gap between art and engineering, then a career as an automobile designer might just be the best fit for you.

Starting a career in automobile designing is broken down into three basic steps in this article.

Understand the Job & the Industry

Before we get into starting a career in the automobile designing industry, I’d like us to take a little time to understand the job role and industry. Automobile designers specialize in the idealization, layouting, and overall make-up of automobiles and automotive components. This process usually begins with brainstorming and consulting with supervisors and clients about the requirements, specifications, and inclination for the design, followed by an humongous amount of research into the production of the vehicle. Once every little detail is decided upon, an automobile designer will sketch it out, typically using CAD software, but sometimes with pencil and paper.

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An automobile designer is entrusted with drafting the layouts of all the integral parts of the vehicle, including every assembly, structure, components, and systems using models, prototypes, and sketches.  The designer is also tasked with comparing using previous car models to determine if any design factors will affect manufacturing by collaborating with automotive engineers. Based on every detail gotten from their research in addition to mathematical formulas and detailed calculations, as well as computer programs, the designer will then develop an original and innovative design that not only reflects the company’s culture and standards but also fit the needs of supervisors and consumers.

Automobile designers work on every minute aspect of a vehicle’s design, from the overall functionality to it’s final appearance. How a car is shaped, what color of interior & exterior needed to become as attractive as possible and attract sales and functionality, all these are worked on by the designers.

Learn the Basics of Automotive Design

When it comes to car-related professions, been gainfully employed tends to fall into one of two different categories. There’s the first category of the people who generally build, manufacture, and work on cars, these ones are also tasked with making sure a particular vehicle is running as intended at all times. Then, you have the second category of people who are responsible for defining what “as intended” means. This fundamentally, is what automobile designing is all about, an industry filled with hardworking individuals who design not only the appearance, but also the larger functionality of cars, trucks, vans, busses, and more.

Basically, automobile designers work in one of three subcategories like the interior design, exterior design, or color and trim design. The interior designers focus their energy and expertise on making the inside of the vehicle as comfortable yet functional as possible, by taking a whole lot into consideration like the placement of gauges, controls, and buttons that are accessible without compromising on the safety of the driver or passengers. Exterior designers are responsible for sketching designs of what the outside of the vehicle would look like and that sketch is then converted into digital formats. Then they go on to sculpt their designs using clay, 3D modeling, or another similar process.  To make the vehicle visually attractive, color and trim automobile designers which is the third subcategory decide what materials, such as leather, fabric, metal, and carpeting will be used, on both the outside and interior of the vehicle.  The designers in this category usually don’t build models but they’re researchers who have advanced knowledge of color theory, color mixing, and the visual effects of specific color combinations.

Learn Advanced Concepts & Techniques


As stated earlier in this article, automobile design usually starts from an idealization stage “this is how I think this vehicle should look,” or “this is what I think this car, truck, SUV, van, etc., can do that will make it unique and appeal to customers.”

Those ideas are then created in the form of drawings, which are then further developed until they become a full-fledged concept. Sometimes during this process, designers may work alone, but will usually work in teams, introducing both other designers and engineers to help create the most realistic concept possible as early in the process as they can.

Once that concept is finalized, the truly technical part of the design development takes over. Computer-aided drafting (CAD), is often used to bring these concepts to life in 3D. This enables the designer to bring more detail into their concept than they ever could on paper, taking into account every minute detail from the shape of the door handles to what the vehicle looks like on the inside. after undergoing more scrutiny, a sculpture or other type of scale model is produced, this offers the industry decision-makers the opportunity to make changes and additions, but also gives them the chance to actually feel something tangible in their hands.

All throughout this process, a few core competencies will serve an automobile designer well. Creativity is always important for this type of job, but basic drawing skills are also a requirement. A deep insight into how cars work, how components function individually, and how they all fit together to form a cohesive whole is imperative.

Most employers require their designers to possess at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering, industrial design, transportation design, or mechanical engineering with an automotive design concentration. Design schools always need potential students to submit portfolios or samples of work during the application process.

They also offer summer programs from time to time to help potential applicants that are in high school to prepare to enter a design program.  The coursework often includes 3D design and modeling, vehicle systems, mechanical engineering, design theory, design for manufacturing, vehicle dynamics, and powertrain systems. An automobile designer will also need to take classes in sketching, design, physical science, CAD, mathematics, industrial materials, and other related courses.

It’s very paramount to note that the education you need and the skills required when earning your degree goes beyond simply an understanding of cars, knowledge of maths and physics are very important as that could be the difference between building an attractive car or building an attractive car that meets safety standards, regulatory requirements and offers a terrific experience while working within the confines of physics and other logistical restrictions. Depending on how your career as an automobile designer tilts towards, it is very probable that you’d end up working outside the United States, so learn at least one foreign language.

Pursue Higher Education & Build Your Brand

One of the skills that announce an automobile designer to the global industry is the ability to develop his or her own “voice.” This means bringing something fresh and unique to the table that is inspired by you. This can only happen when your concepts are not derivative of anybody else’s and the ideas you suggest are not ideas that feel like they could have come from other random people.

Due to the competitive nature of the automobile design industry, and the importance of the business end of the field, potential automobile designers may need to consider earning a master’s degree in business administration, industrial design, or mechanical engineering after earning their bachelor’s degree.  Earning a master’s degree makes graduates more marketable to employers, and may lead to supervisory positions and higher wages.

Additional Resources for Automotive Designers

  • AutoDesignO
  • AADA
  • SAE International
  • AADA – African Automotive Design Association
  • automotive design (The Design Society)
  • Automotive Design ASME

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Shedrack Idoghor

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