Automotive Design Career Information

Automotive design is a very large career field. This is a strongly market driven area of industrial design, and there are real career potentials for designers across the mechanical and other areas of design involved in vehicle production.

The Work Environment

Auto designs are in constant production around the world. Auto design is a very competitive area of industrial design on all levels, with direct input from major manufacturers. Auto designers are often involved in the practical applications of both technical and market design issues.

These are some of the issues affecting auto designers:

  • Appearance
  • Systems installation
  • Electrical systems
  • Aerodynamics
  • Market segmentation
  • Power systems
  • Vehicle performance
  • Suspension systems
  • Fuel economics
  • "Green" issues
  • Auto component design
  • Materials
  • Production costs

The dichotomies of design of a basic suburban sedan aren't obvious. This is how the design issues work out in terms of a basic car design:

Automotive systems: The systems, power, fuel economics, construction materials, anti-pollution gear, performance needs and related components have to be cost effective in production terms for the manufacturer.

Marketing: The appearance and market image of the car must appeal to the appropriate market segment, in this case the suburban family and commuter market. This is a major driver in all areas of commercial auto design, creating the "visibility factor" in advertising and sales.

To achieve the final product, an integrated design must be created. Although there are "known factors" in a basic sedan design, including system power and fuel specifications, a new car model, if sufficiently different from previous designs requires a lot of design to be done from scratch.

This is all CAD work, involving blueprint level creation of car specifications and all components for manufacturing purposes. Auto designers may work on multiple plans within their design brief. In the mechanical and systems areas, materials and power to weight ratios may create major design issues which affect the entire design.

Generally auto designs are structured on the basis of integrating the mechanical and power areas on a specific frame. The marketing element then works with these specifications as its "map" of the structure.


Average $60,000 per year. Income potential includes consultancies for top level designers.


Usually standard business hours, may vary on contract work.

The Career Environment

Auto design, being a highly commercial area of industrial design, opens up a lot of career potentials for designers, including specialization in areas with many more applications. The exposure to the commercial design environment is particularly useful in terms of networking, and career associations across a range of higher level professional areas.

Auto designers, both at the mechanical and market levels, have a built in career portfolio which gives them considerable career mobility in the auto industry and in transport generally. The skills involved in these forms of design are valuable commercial assets, and successful auto designers can be headhunted directly or simply poached by other manufacturers.

There's also considerable intellectual property in auto design. Professional auto designers, like other designers, can benefit from marketing their design ideas and concepts to auto manufacturers. A single design element or component can translate into a valuable patent. Some auto designers can also work as design consultants in their own right, independent contractors, earning commission fees which are much higher than salary based incomes.