J Mays designed the stunning Audi Avus in 1991.
J Mays designed the stunning Audi Avus in 1991.

WHY CAR DESIGN EDUCATION –Learning is different for everyone. We must agree on at least this! Each person comes to a topic with their own biases and cultural toolbox. These are acquired over a stream of years in different educational systems and life experiences, all equally rich and valuable to design – you could read a lot into my education by the words I chose to write with. Similarly, when inquiring about experienced car designers ‘why one should get a car design education anyway?!’, their answers reflect the nuances of our individual origins. Also read the part 1 of this.


J Mays, Visiting Professor at the Intelligent Mobility department of the Royal College of Arts, London UK, is often referred to as a world-renowned vehicle designer, and he most definitely is! However, and he might agree, he is simply a designer. His job transcends cars, products, buildings, or any one industry, it is the creation of culture. Being a designer involves all your senses at all times and is a continuous endeavour to understand and empathise with the user, customer, or consumer.

Designing is ultimately an exercise in sociology and J Mays fully gets that. To him, a car design education is one of the best and most relevant degrees you could wish to get as it cuts across a large swathe of aspects of lifetime learning. But he has some words of wisdom too…

The best advice I could give an aspiring automotive designer is to choose a challenging school in a country that is not yours and you will learn a desire to look beyond your own experiences and understanding.

J Mays
Mays and Thomas Freeman designed the iconic retro concept VW Concept One in 1994.
Mays and Thomas Freeman designed the iconic retro concept VW Concept One in 1994.

He explained that design institutions give you that cross-pollination in culture [design culture, national culture, intellectual culture, etc] which shapes your career. For him it meant leaving Oklahoma, studying in Pasadena at Art Center, and then working for Audi, BMW, and VW in Germany before his 16-year long career leading design at Ford. “Don’t be tempted to jump from one job to the next, but do get out of your comfort zone and then be careful what you wish for!” Great advice!


PStevens-Teaching - Peter Stevens teaches design worldwide, here he is in Sweden.

As much as you would be hard-pressed to look into car design and not see J Mays mentioned you could say the same for Peter Stevens. Designer, mentor, tutor, and all car dude he epitomises car design, past, present, and future. If you take one person’s opinion on the matter to heart I would take his. Aside from a trove of once-in-a-lifetime experiences both in the car industry as a design leader and in the world of design education, Peter is succinct and practical.

“To have credibility as a car designer you do need some kind of academic qualification. The companies who might employ you mostly don’t have a clue what they are looking for nor a clear idea of your ability, so coming from a known design school or college will at least get your work looked at. A good college will show you how to build and show a portfolio of your work, a poor college will not help at all. Put together 15 to 20 pages of your best work, do not show anything you are not happy with. Best work beginning, middle and end.

You will learn most from your peers if you are confident enough to exchange ideas. A follow-up Masters design course is a waste of time and money unless you have loads of both! If you can’t show your talent and creativity at college it’s not going to suddenly appear during a post-grad college course. But choose your college carefully, the ‘Rabbitsville County School’ is not the one to go for!”


It seems that the way to a career in car design is a car design education or at least a related design degree such as product design or industrial design. Designing transportation is not an easy task, it takes a combination of applicable skills: ideation, sketching, form development, proportions, and social and cultural knowledge and awareness. The ability to clearly communicate your ideas is essential as is the willingness to share that information. It is not a career to be pursued in isolation for sure. Getting out of your comfort zone and into the world you are designing for is paramount.

If you can manage to get to one of the great centres for design learning such as Art Center, CCS, RCA, Pforzheim, Politecnico, IAAD, IED, Strate, Coventry, TCA, Umeå, Pratt Institute, Creapole, and TU Delft amongst other schools you could attend for industrial design courses, these are good places to get a car design degree. However, if cost, location, and time are limitations there are a few truly professional online options available such as course paid ArtCenter Online and Car Design Academy or subscription-based Inktank.Academy.


Lotus Esprit, one of the many iconic cars Peter Stevens designed.

It’s an exciting time to be a car designer, so much is evolving from materials to processes, technology (flying cars finally!) to AI learning, and if I have learnt anything from car design it’s that you can design the life you want as long as you have the skills, vision and the will. As for the future of car design…well, according to Peter: “The future of car design is either over if cars become like ‘white goods’, where the badge and its position are the only things you can change, or it’s a huge opportunity to escape from the marketing-driven similarity of almost all current cars.”

Glass half empty, half full scenario…the choice is yours!

1 Comment

    9 months ago Reply

    […] automobile designer Luciano Bove, Sketchit BR, Berk Kaplan and online car design academies such as Inktank Academy where you can also learn great insights about the Car design. You must visit and have a look at […]

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