Is being a car designer a "realistic" goal?

First of all, hi everyone! First time poster and ID newbie. My apologies if this is not the correct section for this question. Now that that is out of the way, back to my question.

Is being a designer in the automotive field, whether it is at the manufacturer or after market, a realistic goal? The reason I ask this is because my dream job as it were, would be in this field. But I once read that the probability of getting a job in that market is extremely low.

Would I be risking a waste of both time and money by going to a school who had an emphasis on transportation design? Or could I carry those skills over to other markets? For that matter could I go to a school that doesn’t have a strong emphasis on transportation design and have any (realistic) chance at getting a job in said market?

Guess that is it for now. Thanks for any replies.

Welcome! Moved you to Students and Schools. Might get a few more replies here.

You are asking strangers to foretell the future.

It is a difficult industry to get work in, and I suspect that cars as we know them now are not exactly the long-term future. Unfortunately, too many young people and educational programs are still preparing for yesterday’s vision of transportation.

Having said that, if you are serious, dedicated, talented, and a bit crazy, then your best near-term bet - and it is a “bet” - is to:
• Focus, focus, focus. Do a specialised automotive degree and nothing less.
• Go to the best degree program available. One that has solid industry connections and tradition. (Hint: A school in a place that does not have any notable auto design studios in/near that place sounds disconnected to me! A school that does not have prominent graduates routinely placed in top positions of car studios around the world is not connected. Really this narrows the field down to just 3-5 serious, less risky choices worldwide.)
• Work hard. Work smart. Network with energy, humility, and charisma, especially as you near internship and graduation times. Make yourself an amicable choice to hire, above and beyond your superior design and visualisation skills.
• Pray for a good economic cycle when you near graduation.

In summary and in the petrol-filled, masculine parlance of the car designer: Go big or go home. This is not unlike professional sports or the entertainment business. (Except in those professions, many of the winners did not pay for their educations and the few winners earn millions and millions. In the automotive profession, except for a handful at the very top, the “winners” are mostly decidedly middle-class who are paying off student loans and who have to keep telling themselves they “don’t do it for the money”.)

There is much more to say, but that’s some food for thought. Now take your questions and conversations over to the less enlightened but more focused and more visual forum and see how you measure up and if that culture appeals to you now, and imagine if that same culture could appeal to you as a mature adult eventually.

Good Luck, or Make Your Own Luck.

Being a car designer is certainly attainable, but it does require a specialized education, and it also is incredibly competitive.

I use the analogy often that if you want to be a car designer, you need to be as ready to design the cupholders in a minivan, or the hubcap on a pickup truck as you do the super sleek sports cars which you see everyone drawing in their portfolios. If you look at sites like you can see their portfolio section is spilling over with incredibly hot sketches, fantastic 3D models, and most of those people are still unemployed.

I too dreamed of being a car designer, and after having been given the chance to briefly work on a co-op project with General Motors (Pre bankruptcy) I realized that the car design world is super focused, highly constrained by existing norms and designs, and innovation or outside the box thinking is rarely promoted. Most of the awesome concept cars you see at the car show this year will be stuck into a storage locker never to be seen again by next year.

That’s not to say you couldn’t apply a transportation degree elsewhere. Transportation designers can work on anything from airplane interiors, to train locomotives, to boats. The skillsets focus on being able to understand very complex form and aesthetics, and communicate those ideas through highly emotional sketches and renderings which help “Sell” an idea. This is why every “hot” sketch you see posted on Autoblog always looks quite different once it becomes an actual vehicle. The designers will help the process along the way, but the auto industry is still very segmented. IE a professional sculptor is in charge of actually building the clay models you see, another person converting it to 3D, all overseen by a design manager/lead designer who controls the vision which you contribute to.

The pay often isn’t as good as it should be either, at least here in the states. Jr designers in the US will either be working in California or Detroit, and since the field is so competitive unless you are the best of the best, the salary doesn’t need to be as high. I have known 4 car designers and all of them left the auto industry to move into video game art (modelling cars in 3D for games), bike design, movie prop design, or consumer products. So the skill sets can transfer over to other fields as long as you don’t let the rest of your brain atrophy in pursuit of the hot sketches.

My views certainly don’t represent everyone’s opinion, but there are some pretty big issues to consider if you want to focus specifically on cars. The main transportation programs are also all at private schools, so you can expect very high costs for tuition.

I was told today that there are more NBA players in the world than car designers.

All the previous replies are exactly right, but there is nothing stopping you doing it on your own- you don’t have to just work for Ferrari. You could go into transportation design to learn, then go and work on your own kit cars.

Have a look at this:

At one point in their lifetime, each president decided they wanted to run to be the president.

It takes that type of drive, motivation, skill, and connections to. It is possible. You would be the only one holding yourself back.

Take a read of Richard Branson’s book “Screw it, Let’s do it”. Be prepared for thousands of hours of hard work before you begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I wish you luck, but then again, if you’ve made up your mind, you won’t need luck!

Realistic to be one or not, I think more important is if your views of what being a car design entails are realistic. As Cyberdemon said, it may not be glorious job that you think it is.

Probably every guy at one point wanted to be a car designer. Those that are, what are they doing? Designing mirrors for 5 years? Gas cap fillers? There are probably only a handful of the people who do full concepts. Even then, I wonder how great it is to be a car designer when you consider 90% of the cars out there are crap looking. Not to mention, even the ones that are nice in concept or sketch form turn out not so great in real life. Is it that fault of the beancounters or engineers? Or maybe they are better sketchers than realistic designers. Maybe I’m just cynical, but I think if a designer makes a good sketch that doesn’t make a good product it reflects badly on the designer.

Just my 0.02$ worth.


Being a car designer is a realistic goal if you’re willing to work 10 years or more for that dream job. If you look back in time, vehicle designers were commissioned to design them rather than recruited straight from automotive design schools. Those were architects, furniture designers and industrial designers. Even Philippe Starck was commissioned to design a vehicle exterior.

You have to get to a point in your career when you start developing forms that both the public and the business really likes. This is how you get commissioned. Automotive design is not only about knowing the car, it’s about creating a highly engaging form. The later is the most important aspect. It’s not going to take a couple of years after graduation. It’s going to take a lot longer than this. Expect at least 10 years, especially if you can’t afford automotive design school. A great starting point is an ID major with an emphasis on form creation. Then, you gotta follow it up with redecoration of vehicle exteriors, making your own furniture or anything else where the object’s form is one of the main unique selling points. If you can turn people away from existing designs towards yours, then you’re on your way to becoming a vehicle exterior designer.

Spot on.

The people crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do.

That said, I think there are fewer working car designers than NBA players, and it’s probably one of the least fun design jobs I can imagine, since the capital investment is so high and there are so many stakeholders.

Thank you all for your input. This is something I have to mull over a bit. I still have to read about the different…forms? of I.D. I am trying to narrow down what schools I should apply to.

if that’s what you really want then it’s realistic. The ones I know that are in that field are all in the leading design positions and worked 7 to 10 years to get there on top of a 16 hour work day. It’s the passion for cars that drove them to work so much not the urge to become a design leader, that just came with it.