Matteo Licata presents an acerbic critique of how automotive design is being taught.
Looking back at my ten-year stint as a designer and my various collaborations with academies, I’ve come to realize just how much has gone wrong in how the discipline is taught. Have you tried to Google “Behance Car Design Sketch” lately? Please open a new tab and do it. Look carefully at these sketches: do you see realistic, well-detailed wheels, can you see any suspension clearance? Do you see a usable glass area? I bet you don’t.
What you will see are out-of-proportion, often even out of perspective drawings with bright colours, with massive wheels whose presence is only suggested. They are all fighting for your attention, yet they all look the same. It seems to me that we have been fetishizing sketching to a point where we have lost sight of what matters, especially in the world of the design academy.
Over the past thirty years, many automobile design courses have popped up in various locations all over the globe, all seemingly with the same goal: to separate rich kids’ families from an often atrociously big chunk of their cash, in exchange for the tuition needed to enter the field. Except that’s not what happens, in most cases.
The proliferation of for-profit design schools is flooding the market with young hopefuls who can sketch but nevertheless know nothing of how to design a vehicle. The result? The market value of “junior designers” has been driven below zero, as supply often far outstrips demand.
Such a situation badly affects even seasoned professionals, if for some reason they lose their gig: there simply are too few places available, and many companies actually prefer to recruit less qualified, younger staff, because it’s cheaper. This is not unique to the automotive design field though, and it’s not the worst part.
I’ve seen plenty of talented design students, young designers… And even many supposedly “senior” ones, blissfully ignoring fundamental manufacturing realities: I’ve seen 1:1 scale “epowood” (rigid resin material used to make vehicle mock-ups) models milled with bonnets that were unfeasible, who couldn’t place shut-lines properly according to conventional production technology and have never seen a technical drawing and a typical section. Once, and this is one I’ll never forget, I’ve “taught” a supposedly experienced colleague how to calculate the diameter of a tyre.
I’d love to say I’ve been immune to mistakes thanks to my superior knowledge… But it would be a lie: I’ve learned my lessons the hard way too. Which is fine and a part of life, but how come that I graduated without ever seeing how a milling machine works?
In my view, the situation has become so bad that it will take years to fix, as first the amount of youngsters that each year enrol to transportation design courses must somehow drop sharply… Which is not going to happen overnight. Then the academies should carefully select only a handful of them, the most motivated and enthusiastic, the ones with gasoline flowing in their veins, to paraphrase the great Bill Mitchell.
Speaking of academies… There simply are too many of those, as you can see for yourself here. The world doesn’t need that many: one in the USA (California or Michigan), one in Europe (France or Germany), and one in China because that’s where the present is and the future will be.
That’s as many as there should be: call me ruthless, but it’s reality that’s harsh, even if many prefer to delude themselves.
Those few academies would then have to teach ‘proper’ five year degrees that include everything that a car designer will likely encounter on the job, not simply sketching and digital modelling: a car designer should be able to tackle an engineer in a productive work conversation from day one.
Is it difficult? Yes it is. But nothing that’s worthwhile is easy…