Automotive Designers


Exploring this Job

An excellent way to uncover an aptitude for design and to gain practical experience in using computers is to take a digital design course through an art school, high school continuing education program, technical school, or community college. Some community colleges allow high school students to enroll in classes if no comparable course is offered at the high school level. If no formal training is available, teach yourself how to use a popular graphics design software program.

Summer or part-time employment in an industrial design office, or even at an automotive design firm, is a good way to learn more about the profession and what automotive designers do. Another option is to work in an advertising agency or for a market research firm. Although these companies most likely won't have an automotive designer on staff, they will provide exposure to how to study consumer trends and plan marketing promotions.

Pursue hobbies such as 3D printing, sculpting, ceramics, jewelry making, woodworking, and sketching to develop creative and artistic abilities. Reading about industrial and automotive design can also be very beneficial. Publications such as Car Design News (, Automotive Design & Production (, and Design News ( contain many interesting and informative articles that describe different design products, offer profiles of automotive designers, and detail current trends. Read books on the history of automotive design to learn about interesting case studies on the development of automobiles.

The Job

When beginning a new project design, automotive designers confer with the manufacturer's product development team to address several issues. What is the theme and concept of the new vehicle? What are specific functions expected by the manufacturer? What are the expectations of the consumer? Automotive designers take these concerns into consideration as well as the size and shape of the vehicle, its weight, color, and materials used. They also must take into account how this new model will fit into the manufacturer's existing fleet of cars, safety of the vehicle, and cost of the final product.

The design process begins with a model of the exterior design. For example, at the Chrysler Design Institute, designers draw manual sketches of possible designs. They also rely on computer-aided design (CAD) programs and tools to visualize their concepts. CAD technology is useful as it gives designers easy access to modify their sketches. They may also use computer-aided industrial design software, which can communicate instructions to automated production machinery. Managers from the design department choose from among the ideas of their staff to present to the heads of Chrysler as possible new model designs.

Designers then work with clay modelers to make scale and full-size prototypes to better visualize their concepts. Full-scale prototypes of vehicles are often made of a wood or iron base covered in Styrofoam. They are further enhanced with a thick layer of clay or industrial plasticine that can be molded and smoothed using special tools such as the slick—a styling tool with rounded edges. With this prototype, designers and engineers can get a feel for the model's aerodynamic potential. Workers from manufacturing engineering, production, and marketing work closely with designers to ensure the new vehicle design meets their department's specifications.

Some automotive designers focus on the interior specifications of a new model. In this capacity, designers are concerned with the ergonomic placement of controls on the instrument panel, including controls for the overhead lights, doors, and windows. They may tweak designs or placement to address function and aesthetic and ergonomic features of controls—all within the limited space of a car's interior. Designers must adhere to safety standards as established by the government, while at the same time ensuring that the interior design theme meshes with the car's exterior design.

Once the exterior and interior designs of a new model are approved, the designers move on to other details of the car's appearance. They also research popular trends in color when selecting the paint and finishes made available for the vehicle. Designers also choose interior colors and fabrics and other materials used for seats, dashboard, and trims for the interior of the car. By the late 2010s, additive manufacturing (3D printing) technology was being used for many exterior and interior automotive design applications.