Cars / Design / Work

Waxing Lyrical About Being A Car Designer

In my profession I tend to get all sort of questions thrown at me.

Some are funny whereas others are down right silly. But most are honest questions so I take them lightly and try to enlighten the enquirer the best I can. I’d like to share with you on what I personally think about this thing I do day in and day out. It’ll be a light hearted but frank look through the trials and tribulations I’ve faced over the years; most of which have made me a stronger, more positive person than I have ever been.

In my opinion you have to have the following traits to thrive in this career:-

Passion. That’s the number one thing that drives car designers. You must have an unwavering amount of this to endure the constant beating of your ideas and opinions. Otherwise your composure will fail you and all that you want to say just evaporates.

Positive thinking. This is a trait which should be in every one of us but just like passion, it gives a positive kick to enable you to be accountable to your work and see things through. Designing real cars can take years. So you need all the positive vibes you can get to appreciate the good things coming up.

Thirst for knowledge. Just like the IT industry, the automotive business changes rapidly. What you know yesterday is irrelevant today, so they say. Therefore to stay relevant you’ll need to always be in the know. And not only about cars. A car designer should have his senses touch the entire design sphere; fashion, graphics, textile, fine arts, music, etc. all play a role of influence. Isn’t it logical? All of art & design stands on the foundations of its Elements & Principles, the basic rules all designers should have learnt while in formal education.

Having said all that, those three ingredients do not guarantee a successful career in car styling. Why? Simply because each individual is unique and has different aspirations, needs and wants. For example, I might be a super talented designer with the diversity of Phillipe Starck, the finesse of Walter deSilva and the avantgarde stature of Patrick Le Quement but if I don’t have discipline then rest assured I won’t last long in seeing my designs come to light. Notice I used the word ‘career’ and not ‘job’. IMHO finding a job is easy but to have a career is something else altogether. Through my experience, in most cases it takes about 2 years to acclimatise to your work scope and a further 3 years to be really competent in the multi facets of the automotive business. Long? Not really.

A car designer (or stylist) isn’t like a fine artist, graphic designer or multimedia designer. It isn’t all about your design per se being selected and mass produced everytime. It’s about teamwork. Collaboration. At a grand scale. Imagine having thousands of people working together to ensure the design meets the light of day. Imagine spending 12 to 36 months of your life interacting with engineers, planners, marketers, corporate bigwigs, sales personel, vendors, distributors and ultimately the public from all over the world to get your message through. Your design intent. Your ideas. It’s a constant battle I tell you; always negotiating, compromizing and debating. And it’s a thankless job. In all this the car designer is only but a ripple in the ocean. But ripples can become a tsunami! In the right condition. Every designer can make a difference; it all come down to discipline and the 3 points i mentioned earlier.

Although car design requires an immense amount of teamwork the public and media looks at things from a different perspective. People, more often than not, always want to associate success or failures to individuals. Cars are, after all, very individualistic objects. Therefore people always look for the person responsible for penning a particular car design. Hence the analogy of associating car designers with rock stars (by the way this subject appeared in TIME magazine some time ago). Cool.

While I might have painted a bleak outlook with regards to this profession, rest assured it has its perks and thrills! To support globalization designers need to be exposed to the latest trends, past design cues and the next ‘killer design’. Therefore designers need to travel and meet the target customers. Worldwide. I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to travel to more than 50 cities in 16 countries since I started my career. I’m a firm believer that there’s no substitute for experience, and the wisdom achieved from that is priceless.

Being a car designer also allows one to grow & experience life across many levels; improving interpersonal skills, enhancing public speaking, understanding engineering concepts, better business accumen and stronger innerself. Living an enriching life in short. Isn’t that what it’s all about? I recall something Steve Jobs (the prolific Apple Inc. CEO) said in Fortune magazine last month and it goes something like this: ‘Life is short. You have so little time to do so many things, and then you die. So when you’re given an opportunity to do something, you better do a good job of it’. Spot on Steve.

But I guess the numero uno best thing about being a car designer is to be one of the few individuals on God’s good Earth able to see his/her sketch take to the road and used by fellow humans. Nothing can describe the feeling when you first see the fruits of your labour roll down the assembly line, or when it is finally unveiled to the world. Months, if not years, of trials & tribulations coming down to that just one moment. Indescribable.

So, am I content to be doing what I do for a living? I guess what I’ve written so far says it all. I think I’ll continue on this subject again sometime too. Seems interesting enough!

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3 thoughts on “Waxing Lyrical About Being A Car Designer

  1. It is great to read this, what I hate most when designing is when my boss agree to a design that her rejected earlier when she notice that later, the same concept is used in international or local publications. For god sake designers dont design within 5 seconds. A stupid idea may comes from great readings and thinkings. Its a true challenge in getting your idea is delivered.

  2. no automotive world without challange, lets take india for example, the emergence of nano small car, now is about to be challange by other car maker, i heard,
    not to mention regulations that probally being tought by others, or technology in development, like azlano said ,have to be in the know.

    like azlano, standing tall, with credential, he certainly know what he is doing.

  3. I think you’ve summed up the attributes required for anyone to succeed in doing anything–outside being a one-man-band down to distribution and exhibition.

    Furthermore, regarding Although car design requires an immense amount of teamwork the public and media looks at things from a different perspective. People, more often than not, always want to associate success or failures to individuals.

    In a democratic, capitalistically inclined society, there must be an individual. The Great Man Theory (by which many historians anchor their writing).

    Even when it’s obvious that the creation of a tangible product or simply reaching a certain outcome necessitates the participation of a group of people (filmmaking, team sports, various performing arts, governing a country), there’s still a tendency to attribute victory or defeat to specific faces and bodies, if not a sole face and body. Could Eli Manning and his 2007 NY Giants have beaten Tom Brady and his NE England Patriots without working together? Certainly not. But, recounting that feat still involves spotlighting individual people. Unavoidably so, I think.

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