It's common knowledge that people in L.A. love their cars. Maybe they lavish such affection on their automobiles because they spend so much time riding (or sitting, as the case may be) in the infamous Los Angeles traffic. Or maybe they just appreciate the creativity, beauty, and power of this most iconic of twentieth century inventions.
From the 1924 Bentley in Jay Leno's garage to Charlie Sheen's cliff-tumbling 2010 Mercedes-Benz, cars play a special role in the history and culture of Los Angeles. Some say California was designed for cars. But who is designing the cars?
Automotive designers use design principles and emerging technology to create commercial, yet innovative, designs for new cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses, coaches, and vans. Often working in tandem with a large team of engineers, designers work to ensure that their concepts look good, can actually lead to functioning automobiles, meet relevant environmental laws, and are priced appropriately.
The tasks of a car design team are usually split into three main aspects: exterior design, interior design, and color and trim design.
- Exterior Design: This refers to development of the proportions, shape, and surfaces of the vehicle. Exterior design is first done by a series of digital or manual drawings, and clay models are made from those drawings. Even with 3-D software and virtual models, the clay model is still the most important tool in evaluating the design of a car. The data from these models are then used to create a further mockups of the final design.
- Interior Design: Automotive interior designers develop the proportions, shape, placement, and surfaces for the instrument panel, seats, door trim panels, headliner, pillar trims, and so on. The emphasis is on ergonomics and the ultimate comfort of the passengers. The design process for the interior design of the car is the same as with exterior design (sketch, digital model and clay model).The aesthetic value of the interior will need to correspond to ergonomic functionality and utility features as well. In particular, vehicular electronic components and parts will give more challenges to automotive designers who are required to update designs based on the latest emerging gadgetry, such as mobile devices like GPS navigation, satellite radio, mobile TV, MP3 players, and video playback.
- Color and Trim Design: This is what it sounds like. This designer researches, designs, and chooses the interior and exterior colors and trim (or color and materials). These materials include paints, plastics, fabric designs, leather, grains, carpet, headliner, and wood trim.
Automotive design is practiced by designers who have art backgrounds in industrial design or transportation design. Careers related to auto design include product design, automotive engineering, and electrical engineering. Successful designers need to be creative and should have strong math, drawing, and science skills.
Since automotive design is a very competitive field, good grades in school will help when looking for that first job. Courses such as industrial design, electrical engineering, mathematics, environmental science and computer-aided drafting may be required for designers looking to break into the industry.
An automotive engineering degree program can provide simulation training and hands-on experience in the field. An internship or work study program is often a necessary part of many automotive engineering colleges.