There’s nothing like spending weeks at meetings to discuss technical issues of draft angles, paint finishes and packaging requirements. Car design isn’t all glamour.
But it has that too. Car designers get to see and shape the future, travel to car shows in nice cities and Detroit and wear striking shirts as well. Like the performing arts, car design mixes episodes of gruelling tedium with bursts of flamboyant style. Creativity is really about doing something very boring for a very long time so that someone else gets a nice visual surprise. The shirts, car shows and interviews are a payoff for all the drudgery that is required up to the point the project is revealed.
That said, not very many car designers reach the level where they are let out of the glaring neonlit world of offices in dreary industrial areas such as Potsdam, Warren or Basildon. The daily routine is much like that of many other office workers: park the car, go the office, pass through security and drink coffee all day long. With markers, Autodesk Alias and Photoshop for company. Repeat until your frenzy of sketches has been picked over by management and handed to a studio manager to mangle with the help of the people from production who always veto the idea for the platinum roof panels.
Some of the glamour of car design comes from the associations with the creative arts and perhaps the more reliable income stream that comes from being able to draw cars nicely compared to making paintings of roadkill and dismembered tubes of paint. Car designers live in a curious world of controlled creativity, focusing incredible efforts on redesigning something we all know well within stringently imposed limits. You have to push the boat out a just a little bit and do it with style, panache and attention to detail.
Part of the job is probably to look the part, to fit in with a group of people who are talented but insecure. In a sense the car designer is the joker inside the court of the car company. The deadly serious suits in the management suite are aware they need the inspiration of the designers but also don’t know how to judge their output. Is that design a piece of brilliance or some kind of aesthetic commentary the customer will run away from? Hence the insecurity of the car designers, both with respect to the aesthetically ignorant managers they answer to and with respect to their peers. You can understand the need to look stylish, to cut a dash.