The job of car designers is to create new automobiles. These design professionals are responsible for different processes―exterior design to define the outer appearance of the car, interior design that covers everything from the overall look of the vehicle to the details of the seats, steering wheel and instrument panel, and color design to decide the tones for the body and interior. Working together and combining their talents, they create a new automobile.
Car designers start with a product concept developed by the product planning department. This gives them an idea of the type of vehicle to be made. After receiving information and explanations based on market surveys, they take their ideas for a vehicle that matches the conceptual plan and begin working to transfer these ideas into a design.
The designers start making sketches while imagining specific targets: the kind of customer who will drive the vehicle and how it will be used. Sometimes they draw the car surrounded by people and even entire cityscapes to help them refine the image.
The tools used also differ. Designers use the tools that they are most familiar with―sometimes drawing by hand, sometimes using computer graphics software.
The designers next present their sketches at the design review meeting. With the sketches up on the meeting room wall, they make presentations in which they describe what they want to achieve with the design. Through repeated competition in this meeting, the designs are narrowed down to a handful of proposals.
To create a more concrete, complete image of what the vehicle will be like when it is actually made, digital modelers use computers to turn these two-dimensional sketches into three-dimensional digital data.
These modelers specialize in digitizing the vehicle based on designers’ sketches of the car from all angles―front, side and back. At this point even all the fine curves and surface contours of the vehicle shape are expressed. Finally, the designer and modeler work closely together to further examine the vehicle proportions and complete the design.
Based on the sketches and three-dimensional data, a quarter-size model is made with industrial clay. This special modeling clay becomes soft when warmed and hardens when cooled. Clay modelers use tools called scrapers to shave the clay and form the shape.
Once the design is brought close to the final stage, full-scale, 1/1 clay models are made. One of these shows the vehicle exterior. The other incorporates the interior details and is finished so people can sit inside. By actually seeing and touching the vehicle like this, design team members can inspect the design at a detailed level. The exterior model is covered with a film to simulate an actual painted surface, clarifying the vehicle’s shape and allowing a check of how it will look in real-world lighting conditions.
Interior designers are tasked with designing all parts of the vehicle interior. They design the seat shapes, instrument panel, door trim and other aspects of the interior for a total display of the ambience in the vehicle cabin space. Interior designers also decide the materials to be used in the interior, thus requiring them to be knowledgeable about all kinds of materials.
Color designers consider the best combinations of colors and materials, for both the vehicle exterior and interior, in further developing the design. They carefully examine even the finest details. Since automobiles operate outdoors, for example, they investigate how the vehicle will look in the sunlight, checking where the sun hits and how the areas of shadow will look.
A full-scale vehicle is shown on a large screen for a final confirmation. Designers also visit the factory that makes the prototype vehicle to check the finished quality themselves and make needed adjustments. For example, if an edge is so sharp that the steel plate cracks in the forming process, they will give it a slightly gentler shape. Design changes may be made right up to the end as long as they do not affect the vehicle performance as originally planned. When the design gets the final OK, it’s time for the designers to celebrate the completion of a new vehicle.