A friend of mine came by recently to ask me about his issue he ran into with his portfolio. He’s a car design hopeful, trying to get jobs/internships at automotive companies, but is quickly becoming disillusioned. His portfolio was handed to bunch of apparently well-known industry giants. When he asked for a feedback, they’ve all simultaneously gave jarringly similar critiques.
It can be summed up with these three points:
My friend was stumped. He worked diligently for close to 6 years to polish his skills, only to be told that he is not fit to be an automotive designer.
So the question is, what is the trait that hireable automotive designers have that this guy doesn’t?
If I were to draw parallels to design schools from art academies, my theory is that my designer friend has pretty much perfected the academic style, and is in the process of maturing his own style. I have great respect for academic styles in art, don’t get me wrong, but there’s that je ne sais quoi about certain modern and contemporary Masters have that I can’t put my finger on. Rodin’s transition from the generic academic style to his more visceral and powerful forms; Picasso’s realistic portraiture to the abstraction of figures; Schiele’s transition from his strong fundamentals to a more free style — all of these artists have found their voice in the fine art world.
My friend has pretty much perfected the academic style in my eyes. That’s why he is a strong industrial designer. However, automotive styling requires aesthetics. More feeling. If industrial design is the thinking, then styling is the feeling.
Automotive design is looking for those with a keen sense of art. They don’t value problem solvers as much as someone with a well-defined and fresh aesthetic sense. So in that sense, they are looking for artists, not engineers.
How does one acquire a fresh aesthetic sense and apply it to design? Speaking from my limited experience, I have no idea.
Honestly, when someone says, “Your design is interesting! How did you come up with it?” I would answer with,
“Haha. I dunno.”
But ask any designer and each one will answer with more-or-less vague answer as such.
The truth is, we have no idea where we come up with our designs. We never think about the where but are thankful that it consistently comes, enough to build our portfolio.
So how do designers cultivate their aesthetics? Do we take in forms and textures by walking through nature and our favourite locations? Do we look at other designs, watch movies, and read novels?
I think it’s all of them. If you take someone that has never taken in any external media and forced them to come up with something. All you will get is a blank canvas in return. I believe that we are made by our environment and the distinct and unique way we process those information and transform them into designs. Being able to experience many things, new things, and foster feelings through them, is the way for us to become more aesthetically sensitive individuals.
So in the end, to be a designer with better sense of form, we need to have a broad and open mind. We need to be highly adaptive, flexible, and open to embrace the unknown. And at the same time, strive to find our voice in design.
Designers should strive to find their voice in design.