What does a Car Designer do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Images By: Nyky, Deep Frozen Shutterbug, Anatoly Vartanov, Deusexlupus
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2019
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A car designer works with a team of creative and engineering professionals to develop the look and feel of new cars. Design teams may be quite large, and they can include a variety of people involved in the process of designing new cars, ranging from people concerned with improving safety to people focusing on the aesthetics of the dashboard display. Having a degree in automotive engineering, art, or industrial design can be helpful for people interested in pursuing this kind of work, and may be required by many car companies.

Car designers start with the concept stage, discussing an entirely new design or a redesign. They talk about what they want to accomplish with the car and also integrate feedback from customers, dealers, and designers on previous models. This is used to generate ideas about how they want a new car to appear, allowing the designers to start creating sketches and mockups. As the process proceeds, these get more precise and detailed, and the car designer starts focusing on the small elements and details, ranging from the shape of the lenses used to cover the indicator lamps to the stitching on the seats.


The car designer is concerned with the aesthetics of the car, how it fits into a manufacturer's lineup, and what kind of message is being projected with the vehicle. They also have to think about issues like aerodynamics and safety, as some aesthetically intriguing features might compromise the car's ability to run. Working with engineers, they talk about design proposals and develop approaches to accomplishing them. Car designers think about color schemes, materials, and other fine details, designing the car down to the last details.

Car designers need to be familiar with safety regulations, as well as industry standards for safety and basic features on vehicles. Part of their work can involve coming up with innovative features and working with engineers on making these features available. Car design is usually heavily influenced by larger design and cultural trends, so people also need to be aware of how the general public is thinking. Research to look at modern art and architecture for influences is needed and market surveys can be used by a car designer to learn more about how people respond to proposed designs.

Designing cars can take months or years in some cases and requires an attention to detail, along with an ability to see the big picture. A car designer also needs to be able to work with people coming from diverse backgrounds with very different priorities, from executives who want to keep production costs low to engineers concerned about environmental sustainability.


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Post 6

Most new cars now a days look like every other car out there. I miss the old days when you could just glance at a car from a distance and know exactly what make, model and year it was. New cars are also ridiculous to work on yourself. It took me four hours just to change the spark plugs on my Mazda. Had to practically rip the whole top end off to get to the plugs. If a designer had been in front of me I would have slapped that idiot for thinking that was a good idea. Plus all these new cars have tons of sensors. One goes bad and your vehicle doesn't run. But it's a guessing game as to which one, unless you're a mechanic and can put it on a machine. Most average people don't have a code scanner. So again, what idiot thought that was a good idea?

Post 4

@Drentel - I agree with what you said about the car body designs changing more from year to year now than they did in the past. This is a good way for car dealers to lure customers. If the car I bought five years ago looks exactly like the new models then there is less chance that I will buy a new one.

However, when everyone can simply look at my car and see that it is not one of the newer models then I am more tempted to get one of the new models.

Post 3

There is more pressure on car designers today than there was 25, 30 and 40 years ago. Cars used to go five to ten years and maybe more with almost no change in the body style. You could hardly tell a '60 from a '65 or '70 in some car designs. Nowadays, the designs change significantly from year to year.

Each year people are waiting to see how different the new model looks from the one they bought the previous year. Car designers really have to be on the job year round coming up with new styles.

Post 2

I often wonder how designers can get away with the way they copy car body designs from their competitors. Have you noticed how a particular body design will become popular, especially when the car is an expensive one, and then other companies will release cars with similar designs, but less expensive than the original car?

There even used to be a popular series of TV ads where people would confuse the expensive car and the less expensive one because they looked so much a like, but one cost $20,000 more than the other.

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