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Car Design Education: Universities Vs Design Art Colleges

Updated on January 11, 2017
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Luciano Bove is a car design manager working at Renault Design. Born in Italy, he graduated from Art Center College of Design in California.

Alfa Romeo project, IAAD Turin Italy
Alfa Romeo project, IAAD Turin Italy | Source

This week I received an email by an Italian young student passionate of Car Design asking for help. How do I become a car designer?

I explained that first of all, he had to show me few drawings just to understand his level of talent before telling him all process to follow to become a car designer. A few days later I received, by email, some sketches done by him and I found a certain talent! So, according to his motivation, I wrote him back telling him that he was eligible to try for an admission interview at design schools. I explained to prepare at least 15 drawings in an A3 format, add some of his quick sketches.

This could be his entry portfolio.

Next, I suggested going visit a short list of Italian design schools I gave. The objective was to choose a school and start the Car Design Education course.

I tried to get him on the right process.

However, I was surprised when I received his email and the reason is the following; he told me that his intention was to go to Engineering University first and later on follow a Master in Transportation Design in Italy. Once completed this school plan go to work in the Car Design business. (At the age of 26/27 years old limit for designers hiring).

Now when I read his answer I understood that this guy was still following the old Italian mentality to get "first" a bachelor from University and "after" try an artistic school.

In Italy (but also in other countries like Spain, France or India) there is still a mentality that prefers Engineering or Architecture university before making a specialization course in what is considered an artistic hobby. The design is still seen as a strange field that comes after a real discipline studied at university.

This is wrong! The design has to be studied in specific Universities, Colleges or Schools, it is not something to apply for after 5 years of something else.

Chris Bangle former BMW VP Design
Chris Bangle former BMW VP Design | Source

My answer to him

I wrote back and told him that he was going off track!

Today's Design schools are highly professional institutions in which we learn the designer profession, in car design as well as in Industrial Design it is imperative to be in one of those good Design Schools. The scheme University and later design school is a high-risk choice because it does not give any deeper knowledge of your field and it takes away precious time to your hiring age for design studios. It is more a waste of time.

If I learn about mechanical Engineering and I will be formed for 5 years as an Engineer.

If I learn in Design schools, like Art Center College of Design in Pasadena or IAAD in Turin Italy, I learn for 4 years (or 3 depending on the school) how to be a car designer:

  • how to sketch
  • render
  • model
  • computer, Photoshop, Illustrator
  • Presentations
  • Portfolios
  • do sponsored projects
  • Internship programs

It is obvious to me that if I want to become a car designer I must follow a Design school!

Another fact that proves the effectiveness of what I say is this one: statistically how many car designers are from Design schools and how many from Engineer Universities? Now, I do not know the answer, but I can tell you my perception in an about 20 years of experience in this business as designer and Design educator.

In my professional life until today I met 5 very good designers coming from Universities: 4 from Engineering and 1 from Architecture. All the others come from Design schools.

The 5 cases are the exception that confirms the rule, they had to go to Engineering University because they did not know Design schools existed or they could not afford to go abroad (many years ago no design schools in Italy).

However; today with the internet, social media networks, websites we can easily reach on our smartphones we know! Today we have many more design schools around the world than 20 years ago.

So, why take the risk to spend 5 years in a University that has nothing to do with our passion which is the Design?

Think about it!


I hope that parents go visit Design Schools to understand what those schools offer in terms of student career and opportunities.

The methods and results are different from Engineering or Architecture Universities compared to Design Universities. It is important that parents understand well what it means to become a designer and why a certain type of training is needed.

Universities are excellent to form students in their respective fields, however, we cannot pretend that from Engineering we can switch to Design Master Program and we are designers!

Too many students (many from India) believe that this is the right process to get a designer job, but it is not.

© 2010 Luciano Bove


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