Working as a Car Designer
- A Car Designer is the person responsible for the internal and external appearance of a vehicle.
- They are expected to have strong design skills and the ability to understand and interpret the requirements of various briefs as well as legal requirements, into a final design which will meet the marketing needs of the manufacturer.
- Strong design skills, IT skills, communication skills, and time management skills are needed, whilst language skills are also a big plus.
- The first years’ work placement as a Car Designer is usually unpaid, but from then on salaries are strong, with the average Car Designer in the UK earning around £50,000 a year.
- A relevant design degree is needed to get ahead in the job, and these are usually competitive and require good exam results.
- Job placements are usually found through your academic study, and gaining relevant experience and strong portfolio will open up more opportunities.
What is a Car Designer?
A Car Designer is the person responsible for the internal and external appearance of a car. They are responsible for the physical appearance of the car, but also the design of the concept behind the car and various specifications and features that the car includes.
The Car Designer is also responsible for ensuring that the vehicle will reach all safety requirements and meet the legal requirements for fuel efficiency and so on, in the various countries where the car will be sold.
There will also be various aesthetic requirements they have to meet, but this will be dependent of the type pf vehicle they are working to. Whilst a sports car, or a supercar will obviously have to be visually striking to attract the target consumer, some vehicles such as people carriers and vans attract buyers because of the practical specifications of space, size, and durability, rather than how they look.
The car designer is also expected to be able to adapt their concepts to the requirements of the manufacturer, many of whom have a general design theme which they expect to be present through their entire range of vehicles. It can be a challenging creative task to marry together all of these requirements and yet still produce a vehicle that is visually pleasing and good to drive.
What Skills and Responsibilities are there?
A Car designer principal task is to design a vehicle which the car company can sell and make profit with. Most designers will be given an initial concept to work with, alongside the overall corporate theme of the car manufacturer. They will be expected to understand and interpret these and translate them into a working design.
There is an obvious need to be creative, but within the parameters laid out by your employers. There will be occasions when you might be able to let your imagination run wild in working on a concept car, but for the most part, you will need to limit to creativity to the confines of the project briefs you have been given.
You will also need to be able to interpret the sales goals briefing into a design that will fit the requirements. If you are working on a family car, the requirement is going to be a vehicle which will sell in big numbers. You will therefore need to blend visual looks with practical features. However a high end sports car will have much more focus on being visually striking, and containing a limited number of top quality features, because the intention is to sell for a high price rather than in great quantity.
You will need to have good communication skills and work well in a team, as being a car designer is rarely a solo occupation, and most will work alongside research and development teams who will have various features and design concepts which you will need to work into your finished design. You will also have to work closely with sales and marketing teams, and numerous other people throughout the course of the project.
Strong public speaking skills are also important as you will have to make numerous presentations about your design, and be able to explain how it fits the various requirements of your briefing, and what the thinking is behind what you have produced.
Needless to say there is a requirement for car designers to have an excellent understanding of design generally and car design principals specifically. You will also need to be excellent at using a wide range of computer design tools to bring your design to life. The precise software packages will vary from one company to another. You will also need to be able to apply these skills to the delivery of highly technical design presentations.
Finally, whilst some car designers will work in house with a manufacturer, others are freelance and work for various companies. Freelance car designers must be willing to travel and it can also be highly advantageous to speak one or more additional languages, as this can open up the possibility of working in various new marketplaces beyond the English speaking ones.
Pay and Benefits
Upon graduation, newly qualified car designers will find that the market is highly competitive and getting on the ladder can be very challenging. For many this can mean having to take unpaid roles and work placements in the first instance in order to get some relevant experience.
However, once you have got a foot in the door, the job can be extremely lucrative, although the international nature of the job means that salaries can vary from one country to another.
The largest car manufacturing country is the USA, and graduate car designers there can expect to earn somewhere in the region of $50,000 a year. This is not a bad salary and as you gain more experience and a stronger portfolio, you can expect this to increase.
However in the UK, an average car designer will earn in the region of £50,000. This figure is much higher, but that is because in the UK there are far fewer jobs working on mainstream family cars, with most designers focusing on high end sports car with niche manufacturers.
A Car Designer will be expected to have a degree in design. However design can be a very broad subject, and it is important that undergraduates have made the decision to focus on car design early and chosen an institution which focuses on automobile design. There are plenty in the UK which offer relevant course options, and some that even have working relationships with manufacturers which allows undergraduates to get corporate experiences and links at an early stage. This can prove to be hugely beneficial later after graduation, when you are looking to get a job.
To get onto one of these degree programmes can in itself be very competitive and school leavers will therefore be expected to have strong GCSE and A Level results, including in relevant subjects such as Art or Design. Additional Language skills are also hugely beneficial, and you will also be expected to demonstrate a flair for drawing, with technical drawing skills a big advantage, although this will be taught during the course too.
Most Car Designers will find themselves initially taking an unpaid work placement. These placements can last for a year and are essential to allow newly qualified designers to develop real working experience and are often arranged for graduates by their universities.
Second year placements are then then almost always fully paid and the salaries even at this early stage in the career are very good, which compensates for the lack of income from the first year of work.
The second year placement will usually stem from the first year one and is more often than not with the same manufacturer, or with an associated one.
At this stage a designer should have begun to build up a strong portfolio of work and enough experience to be able approach manufacturers for work or apply for advertised roles.
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