Where do the car designers of tomorrow go to perfect their craft? Boston Corporate Coach™ shares the intel about three of the elite schools that shape the future of what we drive.
Early auto manufacturers focused on functionality over aesthetics, but it wasn’t long before marques and their customers valued the automobile as much for its emotional allure as for its practicality. Before and after World War II, formal courses of study on the subject began to emerge, drawing from the disciplines of fine art, architecture, and industrial design, each reflecting the culture and character of its environs. Today, transportation design is more global than ever, and with many aspiring artists in the field vying for so few coveted spots, top students flock to the handful of institutions that have produced some of the biggest names in the business. There is no denying the influence these programs have on the automotive world.
1) ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, CA
Founded in 1930, ArtCenter originally offered programs in advertising, publishing, and industrial design. In 1948, the automotive-design program was formally organized on the school’s old campus in downtown Los Angeles and, because of its location at the epicenter of California car culture, quickly became the incubator for the industry’s top design jobs.
“Back in the 1950s, this was the only game in town,” says Stewart Reed, dean of the transportation-design program. “There are other schools, but none with the legacy that ArtCenter College of Design has.”
2) College for Creative Studies: Detroit
Located in the heart of Motor City, the College for Creative Studies (CCS) enjoys a strong, symbiotic relationship with America’s automakers.
Ed Welburn, former General Motors vice president of global design, once said, “The entire auto industry here is dependent on CCS.” William Mangan graduated in 1999 and went on to lead the interior design of the third-generation Ford GT. Now working on the forthcoming Bronco, Mangan says the quality of work he saw as a prospective student there compelled him to sign up. “I vividly remember touring the campus prior to my decision and stumbling on a room filled with automotive renderings from the junior-level class and being blown away,” he says. “That trip cemented in my mind the caliber of work and teaching I would be exposed to.” As with the other schools mentioned here, CCS collaborates closely with car companies and industry leaders to recruit and train top talent through design competitions, mentorship opportunities and outreach programs to students as early as high school. “Our classes were taught by working automotive designers from the Big Three,” Mangan recalls. “Having direct access to professionals who taught from their daily experience was a difference-maker.”
3) Hochschule Pforzheim University: Baden-Württemberg, Germany
At the northern edge of the Black Forest sits Pforzheim, the home of one of Germany’s largest public universities of applied science. When you consider the school’s close proximity to Stuttgart, it’s no surprise that many of its graduates have gone on to work for the likes of Porsche and Mercedes-Benz, which both have their headquarters there.
“When I started my studies in 1984, Hochschule Pforzheim School of Design was the only German, and maybe even Continental European, design college with a high reputation,” says Steffen Köhl, class of 1988 and now the director of advanced exterior design for Mercedes-Benz. Köhl has worked on such models as the SLR and CLK and now leads the charge for the company’s international design studios, series production vehicles and concept cars such as the EQ Silver Arrow shown in 2018 at Pebble Beach, the F015 Luxury in Motion, the Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury and the Vision Maybach 6 coupe and cabriolet.
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