Essential Tips For Automotive Designers - Before You Graduate (Part 1)

Automotive Design is a demanding career path, and navigating through design courses can be quite overwhelming. With a comprehensive curriculum, students often struggle to pinpoint the key objectives essential for securing a job before graduation. At Automotive Design Planet, we aim to shed light on crucial aspects students must focus on during their studies to capitalize on industry opportunities effectively. Despite the availability of exceptional car design education in numerous prestigious design schools globally, individuals frequently find themselves confused, leading to frustration, particularly in the fast-evolving automotive industry, known for its intense competition.

Alpine A4810, IED 2022 Master Thesis Project Board

Car design remains a specialized field, making it challenging for many to secure their dream job. It requires exceptional skills, boundless creativity, and more. Our goal is to outline key factors that significantly impact success in this field. For students aspiring to enter the industry, understanding these factors is crucial. In automotive design, catching the attention of recruiters and standing out is paramount to securing employment. Due to evolving design processes and fierce competition, success rates in car design courses are relatively low, and job opportunities are limited. The tips and suggestions in the article aim to equip you with the insights needed to become an ideal candidate and start your dream job in car design.

1. Your portfolio is your biggest tool

In car design, the most important factor is your portfolio. Every hiring design manager selects candidates representing the required skills and creativity through projects showcased in their portfolio. If a candidate has a strong portfolio, the chances of securing an interview are high, as hiring managers are keen to understand the candidate's design thinking and process.

Mercedes Benz Zooming Twenties", BA-Thesis, Tim Bormann

Without a good portfolio, progressing to the next round of interviews is usually impossible. A portfolio serves as a chance for the hiring manager and candidate to initiate a conversation for the next stage of the hiring process. A good portfolio comprises several projects that demonstrate your design skills, creativity, taste, and style accompanied by a detailed design process and numerous sketches tracing the development from inception to completion. It serves as a means of communication with companies and brands without any direct interaction. Therefore, any graduating student must excel in the portfolio aspect.

As we know, nowadays the design process is completely different from the traditional design process. Various factors play a significant role in creating a portfolio nowadays, including the types of projects chosen, whether they include 3D models, sketches, or visualizations, as well as your presentation skills, flow, and graphic design. With the design process constantly evolving because of the integration of new AI tools and advancement in traditional software, it's equally important for you to come out of your comfort zone and adapt to these changes to elevate the quality of the portfolio.

The one AI tool which has recently caught our attention is the Vizcom AI. Along with your traditional tools such as Photoshop and Alias, Vizcom could be very helpful in the early stages of your project, allowing you to explore countless design options quickly and easily. By using these tools alongside traditional methods, you can have more control over their results and effectively create and communicate your designs.  

Moreover, with Vizcom you can create stunning visualizations, streamline the workflow, and present your designs in a captivating manner, enhancing the portfolio and increasing your chances of success in the competitive field of car design. We know there are multiple layers to a successful portfolio, and we plan to launch a series focusing on the Top 10 tips for creating an impressive portfolio, where we will focus more on details on how to build a compelling portfolio.

2. Social media is the new portfolio

Today, social platforms such as Instagram have become popular in automotive design because they allow designers to showcase their work seamlessly. It's an incredible way to gain visibility and attention for your work. Many design managers have approached designers through Instagram DMs for hiring purposes. Hence, Instagram and Behance are virtually unavoidable in today's digital age.

Yifei Li - Designer Featured on Automotive Design Planet

We suggest that all the design students gradually plan and build their Instagram design page with their best work. This allows them to be visible to design heads and seize the right opportunities. These platforms also enable designers to receive feedback, interact, and view other designers' work, fostering a sense of community and enabling design students to reach a wider audience worldwide from one place. In this digital era, students should not miss any opportunity to reach a wider audience and should consider sharing their works with automotive design media outlets like ours which offer platforms for students and designers to share their work, making it visible to numerous design managers and heads. If these heads appreciate your work, there's a chance of receiving offers for internships or jobs. This practice is not unusual but rather common in the industry.

3. Networking is as important as your portfolio

Another crucial factor is networking. Every designer needs to capture the attention of the right people at the right time, and networking helps you find the best opportunities. Networking involves reaching out to hiring managers, design heads, and senior designers through various mediums. The most natural way is through college and faculty. Many colleges have professionals teaching in their schools who offer opportunities to outstanding students during their final year, impressed by their performance in courses. Another excellent platform for networking is LinkedIn. It's an incredible way to connect with designers and build a network. You can reach out to industry people on LinkedIn, introducing yourself and showcasing your work and portfolio. This also provides an opportunity to receive constructive feedback and improve the portfolio and projects.

Other networking opportunities include participating in competitions such as the recently concluded Quantron Design Award, ongoing Polestar Design Award and a lot more, attending design events and car shows, or connecting through mutual design friends. Having strong connections makes it easier to push your application, and often, jobs are filled through recommendations rather than being publicly posted. Therefore, a strong network increases the chances of getting opportunities, especially if your work interests those in your network. Maintaining good relationships with your seniors in your school and the designer in the industry is as crucial as having a strong portfolio.

4. Channeling your strengths and Deciding on the specific role

Today, automotive design is a highly diverse field. New roles emerge as technology advances and the automotive design process evolves. In car design studios, you'll find roles such as 3D modellers, visualization artists, CMF designers, studio engineers, UX/UI designers, and many more. The design process of a car requires specialists in various domains. Therefore, we advise all the design students to recognize their interests and skills and focus on specific areas during their final semesters. You can research online to understand the specifics required for each role. 

For example, an interior designer job may require showcasing interior projects, including relevant sketches, models, and renders of dashboards, doors, seats, etc. Conversely, for a 3D modeller role, one must include high-quality 3D models, along with wireframes, patchwork, and screenshots demonstrating surface quality. Additionally, portfolios for such roles should highlight software proficiency in tools like Vred, Blender, Unreal, Grasshopper, Photoshop etc.

Designers Sketching in Skoda Design Studio

Clay Modellers working on a concept in JLR Design Studio

Once you identify your domain of interest, you should focus on developing relevant projects either as part of classroom assignments or personal endeavours. For example, if a brand is hiring for Color, Material, and Finish (CMF) roles, they would expect to see CMF design boards, texture development, material studies, and similar applications in the candidate's portfolio. Today, the field of car design offers a wide range of roles, which is excellent news. Roles like exterior designer are highly competitive but also abundant in job opportunities. We encourage design schools to promote awareness of these diverse roles.

5. High time to adapt to AI tools and include them in your design phase

As we know the design landscape is changing and it’s impossible to keep AI tools out of the conversation as the world is undergoing a transformative shift because of artificial intelligence (AI) that's affecting everything in our lives and different industries. This is no sort of generational transformation like when the internet was created or when the light bulb was invented. Among the domains experiencing a profound impact, the automotive industry stands prominently, with design emerging as a pivotal focal point. At first, people were doubtful whether AI tools could be creative and handle tasks in fields like design, music, and art. Many thought these areas would not be affected by this technology. But now, in the year 2023, things are changing. AI tools like Vizcom are being used/adopted in vehicle design and other creative tasks.

This is somewhat like the introduction of Photoshop and CAD in the 1990s which completely changed how designers worked. This speeds up decision-making, helping design teams make informed choices efficiently. While speaking to Pontus Fontaeus (Executive Design Director, GAC) about his journey into CAD he mentioned “I supported the use of digital tools in design studios, moving away from traditional 3D assessments and clay modelling as in the past, especially during tough economic times, we had to find more efficient ways. This started with Volvo, where, due to financial constraints, we had to discover innovative shortcuts. Even in our studio at GAC, we start with traditional methods and later use AI tools to explore different options. It's important not to dive for quick solutions because discomfort and challenges in the design process often result in the best outcomes."

To understand more we had a chance to speak to Regina Aguirre - the first student ambassador for Vizcom's EDU program on how artificial intelligence transforms the creative process for her as a student. She chose Vizcom for its collaborative approach that allows designers to steer the creative direction. With Vizcom, she could feed her initial sketches into the platform and then refine the AI-generated 3D models. This gave Regina an interactive role in the design iteration.

According to Regina, AI enables designers to "make thought visible." Rather than replicating human creativity, Vizcom's AI suggests new visual avenues and stimulates ideation. By removing repetitive work, it gives designers the freedom to focus on the thoughtful, nuanced aspects of design. She believes AI will be a collaborative force that propels design into the future.  

Looking at the above 2 examples, one from a studio head and one from a student, it's clear where the industry is heading and by embracing these technologies, you can create your own unique paths and harness AI's potential.

Vizcom's New Automotive Exterior render style

6. Internships, collaboration projects and competitions

Gaining practical, real-world experience is essential for learning automotive design effectively. There are various opportunities available for students to acquire this experience. It's vital because these experiences not only enhance design skills but also develop soft skills, moulding a more mature designer. Employers also prefer candidates with multiple real-world experiences, as it demonstrates their capability to thrive in professional settings. Internships are the most common and impactful method for enhancing design skills, networking, social abilities, and acquiring valuable experience. Many design colleges offer students opportunities to participate in internships during semesters. In design, practical experience and exposure to the workings of actual design studios are crucial. Therefore, students should actively seek out the best internship opportunities available.

Another excellent option is collaborating on projects with brands, which offers students in-depth reviews and knowledge transfer. During these collaboration projects, industry designers mentor and guide students. A more recent trend in this category is participating in design competitions like the Quantron Design Award, Polestar Design Challenge, SAIC Design Challenge and a lot more. It's an incredible opportunity for individuals to push their limits. Through these competitions, your projects and work directly reach the brand, and in the best-case scenario of winning, the rewards are invaluable, such as a 1:1 scale model of Polestar Synergy. Thus, all these options provide an additional layer of experience that can significantly enhance a designer's portfolio.



In Part -2 we will discuss more points such as the importance of communication, how to build your style etc. which could be useful for an emerging designer. 

Part 2 will be released on 20 April 2024. STAY TUNED