Debunking Common Misconceptions in Automotive Design: A Guide for Aspiring Designers

Automotive enthusiasts are often drawn to the Glitz and Glamour associated with the role of an Automotive Designer. However, the numerous challenges inherent in the profession often go unnoticed. While Automotive Design offers substantial rewards and a sense of fulfilment by shaping a brand's identity, it's essential to pause and consider whether we're ready to acquire the necessary skill set before eagerly diving into this dynamic field.

Here are some common misconceptions sourced from media, culture, and limited exposure, shedding light on the realities of Automotive Design:

 1. Automotive Design is about Exteriors Only

Viritech Apricale designed by Pininfarina

Many individuals entering the world of Automotive design typically focus on exterior aspects. While exterior design is a crucial part of the overall design process, Automotive Design encompasses more than just exteriors. Interior design, clay modelling, CMF (Color, Material, and Finish), UX/UI, 3D modelling, and visualization constitute integral pillars of Automotive Design. Although exterior design plays a pivotal role in establishing a brand's identity and making a significant "first impression," it is just one facet of the multifaceted discipline.

2. Automotive Design and Automotive Engineering are the Same

The confusion between Automotive Design and Automotive Engineering arises from a common misperception that the two fields are interchangeable or closely related. In reality, these disciplines require vastly different skill sets and cater to distinct aspects of the automotive industry. Automotive Design involves the creative and aesthetic aspects of developing the visual and functional elements of vehicles. Designers focus on creating the overall look, feel, and user experience of a vehicle, considering factors such as aesthetics, ergonomics, and consumer appeal. On the other hand, Automotive Engineering is more concerned with the technical and mechanical aspects of vehicle development. Engineers in this field deal with the structural design, mechanical systems, safety features, and overall functionality of automobiles. They work on ensuring that vehicles meet performance, safety, and regulatory standards.

The unfortunate consequence of this confusion is that many students interested in automotive design may enter design colleges without fully grasping the challenges specific to the design profession. These challenges include mastering design software, understanding human factors, and navigating the design process. Without a clear understanding of these differences, you may face unexpected hurdles once you enter the professional field.

3. Sure chances of landing a job

Many designers are enticed by the promises made by design institutes, advertising their courses as a guaranteed gateway into the Automotive Design Industry. However, the harsh reality is that this field is intensely competitive, and securing a position as a designer is far from guaranteed. Contrary to the perception that completing a design course will automatically lead to a job, the job market for automotive designers is highly challenging. Having a degree or completing a program doesn't ensure success in landing a suitable position in the industry. Instead, what sets individuals apart in this competitive landscape is the creation of a compelling portfolio.

While design institutes offer valuable education and skills development, the path to becoming a successful automotive designer extends far beyond completing a course. It involves the continuous cultivation of skills, a commitment to ongoing learning, and the creation of a portfolio that not only reflects technical proficiency but also showcases a unique design perspective. This proactive approach is the key to navigating the competitive landscape of the Automotive Design Industry and turning aspirations into a tangible, fulfilling career.

4. This is only for Automotive Enthusiasts

Getting into automotive design doesn't just require a love for Cars and Bikes. While a passion for vehicles is a foundational element, the evolution of automotive design has been significantly shaped by inspiration drawn from diverse fields and backgrounds. This industry's dynamic nature requires designers to transcend traditional boundaries and embrace a multifaceted approach to creativity. Automotive design is a constantly evolving discipline, influenced by a spectrum of influences beyond the automotive world. 

To truly make an impact in automotive design, aspiring designers should draw inspiration not only from the automotive industry itself but also from art, architecture, fashion, technology, and various other creative domains. For more valuable insights we asked Pontus Fontaeus - Executive Design Director, GAC USA and he shared that nowadays companies actively seek individuals capable of thinking differently, valuing creativity that goes beyond the confines of established norms. He further added “OEMs are now shifting from conformal designs to something more user-centric. How we approach interior architecture and user experience will undoubtedly influence the exterior, leading to a departure from the traditional norms. It's a prospect with great potential for innovation and change in the automotive industry, and I'm eager to see it.”

5. It is just a Styling Process

Automotive Design is not just a styling process. Instead, it encompasses a wide-ranging spectrum, incorporating essential elements such as research, sustainability, advanced mobility, connectivity, and technological advancements. 

  • Research is a foundational pillar within automotive design, involving exhaustive investigations into user preferences, market dynamics, and emerging technologies. Designers engage in a comprehensive understanding of consumer needs, societal trends, and environmental considerations, allowing them to make informed and forward-thinking creative decisions that contribute to the industry's progress.
  • Sustainability has become a central focus in contemporary automotive design. Designers are tasked with integrating eco-friendly materials, energy-efficient technologies, and environmentally conscious manufacturing processes. This commitment to sustainability reflects a visionary approach that extends beyond immediate aesthetic concerns to align with global efforts for a more sustainable future.
  • Advanced mobility and connectivity represent key catalysts for innovation within automotive design. Designers face the challenge of envisioning vehicles that seamlessly integrate with the evolving technological landscape, including electric and autonomous vehicles.

in essence, Designers not only craft visually appealing vehicles but also contribute to the development of solutions that address societal needs, environmental considerations, and the ever-evolving expectations of consumers. 

6. One-Man Job

People often think Automotive Design projects can be achieved alone but this is never the case. The entire design process is a collaborative effort that demands considerable time and dedication to achieve excellence. In reality, the collaborative synergy within a team is essential for delivering the exceptional works of art we witness today. Design teams are composed of individuals with varied backgrounds, each contributing a unique set of talents to the creative process. These teams typically consist of professionals specializing in areas such as exterior and interior design, engineering, colour, material selection, user experience (UX/UI), Clay modellers and more.

GAC team

This collaborative approach enables the team to address multifaceted challenges, explore innovative solutions, and ultimately produce a cohesive and aesthetically pleasing design. While speaking to Marilia Biill - Head of CMF Design, Kia, she told us that collaboration is a crucial aspect of the CMF department's success at Kia. She further added that collaboration ensures that the CMF choices align with other critical aspects of car design, such as engineering, marketing, and manufacturing, resulting in a harmonious and well-rounded final product.

7. Automotive Design is just for Artists

While possessing the required sketching and creative skills is undeniably advantageous, Automotive Design extends far beyond the artistic prowess. A comprehensive grasp of engineering principles, manufacturing processes, and current market trends constitutes invaluable expertise that distinguishes exceptional designers from the rest. Beyond the aesthetic aspect, a good understanding of these foundational elements equips designers with the ability to create not only visually appealing but also technically sound and market-responsive automotive designs. This multidimensional skill set not only enhances the designer's capacity to innovate but also positions them as valuable contributors capable of navigating the challenges within the dynamic landscape of Automotive Design.

8. Automotive Design is Just for Men

Commonly, there is a belief that Automotive Design is predominantly a male-oriented profession, but this assumption is not accurate. The field is open to individuals of all genders, and fostering inclusivity is essential for its advancement. To progress, it is crucial to ensure that design teams embrace diversity, encompassing individuals from various genders, backgrounds, and ethnicities.

The overall goal for all brands is to design for a diverse audience, and achieving this requires a diverse team of designers. By incorporating perspectives from individuals with different life experiences, cultural backgrounds, and viewpoints, design teams can harness a rich tapestry of ideas. This diversity becomes a catalyst for creating new and innovative design solutions that resonate with a broader spectrum of people.

9. Artificial Intelligence will replace Automotive Designers in the future

A lot of talks have emerged suggesting that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will eventually replace designers in the future. This perception not only discourages potential future designers from entering the field but also contributes to widespread apprehension and negative sentiment towards AI. It's important to recognize that AI has evolved into a sophisticated learning machine that can be a valuable asset for designers. Instead of rejecting it outright, both students and professionals in the design field should embrace AI and integrate it into their workflows. AI can assist designers by rapidly generating various design iterations, thereby streamlining and enhancing the creative process.

Scott Robertson Vizcom AI Sketch Renders

We interviewed Jo Stenuit - Design Director At Mazda Motor Europe on AI shaping the future of automotive design and he mentioned that AI will not lead to the displacement of designers' jobs at this point. Ultimately, the quality of the design output will depend on the quality of the input. The resulting work will reflect if you're a skilled designer capable of providing excellent information or clear guidelines for AI-assisted iterations. It's the same as the early days of Photoshop when some individuals downloaded the software for free, thinking they could use it effectively. They could open the software but needed help understanding how to use it to its full potential. The same principle applies to AI in design.

Conclusion

In Automotive Design, strides in creativity and innovation have propelled the field to new heights. However, the pleasure of working in this dynamic domain is tempered by the current challenges of intense competition and limited opportunities. companies and design schools must take the responsibility of fostering inclusivity within the industry. To cultivate a diverse and vibrant community, these entities must collaborate, bridging the gap between the professional world and academia and extending opportunities to individuals aspiring to contribute to this exciting field. For aspirants, navigating the competitive landscape requires thoughtful consideration and dedication. Thorough research and self-assessment are crucial steps to ascertain a genuine commitment to the field. Aspiring designers must be prepared to invest not only passion but also a willingness to learn continuously, adapting to evolving techniques and drawing inspiration from diverse sources. 

This proactive approach is essential for realizing one's potential in terms of creativity and innovation within the ever-evolving landscape of Automotive Design.