with a Transport Design Student
Anyone considering starting a degree course in transport or vehicle
design, or even product design should read through this interview
we had with Andrew Varnish back in 2006. Andy, 20, was a second year
transport design student at Coventry University. Coventry University
Design School offers one of the best transport design courses in the
world. Graduates of the Bachelors and Masters degree courses hold
some of the top positions in automotive design throughout the world.
That wasn't a plug, it's the truth.
Prior to starting the degree course Andy did a one year BTEC course,
also at Coventry, in Foundation Art and Design. This basic course
gives a good grounding and introduction to the world of design. Many
students complete a foundation, or similar course prior to starting
a degree, often it is a requirement.
What course are you doing?
Iím doing a transport design course at Coventry University, there
are several options available for what route exactly you would like
to take in the automotive industry ranging from a more engineering
vehicle design degree to an outright styling degree. The main course
that Coventry offers is a 4 year MDES (Masters in design) of Transport
design. To achieve a place on this degree you have to be the complete
package within design, not just vehicles, and attain a 60% average
overall from the 8 compulsory modules. Most people do the BA (Bachelors)
automotive degree which is more automotive based and if they wish
do a masters after they may do a year at Coventry or move to a different
university for a different atmosphere etc. Their is no better degree,
every option has its positives, generally the students portfolio tells
What were you expecting?
The foundation to me was simply a stepping stone to find out if I
really wanted to spend around 5 years in Coventry to hopefully fulfill
my ambition of becoming a transport designer. Doing a foundation is
the best thing a budding designer can do, it opens your eyes to completely
new ideas and directions for design.
My expectations were that the foundation would be a very relaxed atmosphere.
Turning up on the first day to find a brief of six A1 works of all
different media studying flowers to be completed by the Friday was
alarming but very much so worth it. In that first week alone I learnt
so much. Developing onto the main course was alarming also, the reality
of how many people do the course, people from all over the world come
to Coventry to do this course. The first week was a lot of waiting
around and we had a few scares from our tutors saying that 9 people
did not get a place because of each one of us, then to say only about
3 people a year actually become automotive designers. From this instantly
a few faces began to disappear, but developing on the course really
does make you understand how many opportunities there are in the automotive
industry. Everyone wants to become an exterior designer at some point,
but it truly is not the end of the world, design is a team effort
and a huge 7 year effort at that.
How have your design views and inspirations changed?
My views have changed dramatically from high school, I am now very
much so into retro and retro futurism design works, I have never been
too involved with the technical side of cars, itís always been about
styling, but performance and heritage creates character. Making a
car look like its going 100mph when standing still, making it look
solid and strong or giving it road presence is the designerís task.
Initially I used to sketch and design cars, this is useless, to design
a car for a specific company like BMW, Renault etc. is the way forward,
each company has specific design cues which a designer needs to adhere
to. Inspirations tend to range from organic forms to architecture.
How does a subjective course like design differ from more traditional
Transport design degrees at Coventry everyone will agree that it is
a way of life and not a degree, every degree is a hard task to achieve.
Design has the extra elements of quality, style, technique, CAD understanding
etc. Along with the normal reading of the subject, keeping up to date
with the development of technology is a big factor. Donít get me wrong
I admire anyone for achieving a degree, the problem with transport
design is it is in such high demand and everyone who does the degree
will admit their love and desire towards cars or design, its not a
case of how much we will earn when or if we become a designer its
a case of how much you want a car to be on the road that you designed.
The benefit of a design course is that you donít slug at the books
for months on end to have a one hour test at the end of it that means
everything, design is coursework based, if you have an off day it
doesnít matter, design is development. Creating your own style is
a huge factor, what makes you different from the next guy or girl,
set the curve donít follow it.
What do you know now you wish you knew before starting?
In a way Iím glad that I started my time at Coventry with a fresh
head towards design, everyone develops differently. My general technical
knowledge of cars and design is far greater than when I began the
course, it took me a considerable time to research into the history
of cars and design, knowing where a company has been and where it
is going is important to learn so that you can design to your predictions
and what a company needs to fulfill the brand.
Car design is a highly competitive business. Does this start at
University, and if so how does it effect friendships within the course?
This I feel just comes natural to some characters, some people can
be ultra competitive, selfish and hard, others friendly. The people
I have as my friends on the course we tend to have a friendly competitive
spirit, like recently I just got a better grade than a good friend
of mine and he just said he will get me next time, which is nice.
But others just run people down at all costs, I imagine it is the
same in the industry, we are all competing at the end of the day.
I feel be as good as you can be, be your own person, donít run other
people down to make yourself feel bigger or better and if someone
does it to you just rise above it, it will really piss them off.
What are some of the qualities YOU think are essential to becoming
a successful car designer?
In my view to become a successful designer you have to create yourself
as an individual always thinking, looking, listening and learning.
Being open is a great asset. Itís boring to be part of a crowd.
What is the worst, or hardest, part of the course?
I can't think of much, I enjoy most elements. We are currently in
the process of learning Alias studio works 12 on top of other modules,
I'm finding this to be time consuming and it seems to take an extremely
long time to understand the smallest things, but for presentations
etc. creating a complete virtual model will be a great advantage.
Writing up research and referencing is very time consuming, I would
say that is the worst part of the course.
What is the best, or most rewarding, part of the course?
Having the confidence and self belief to stand next to your work and
present it in front of your peers, to see all the hard work pay off.
Comments about peoples work can be very open and varied so to get
a compliment is a great feeling.
What advice would you give to someone considering starting a course
Be sure what field you want to work in, donít ever look at the money
look at what you enjoy, well thatís my view. I would rather enjoy
my job earning less, than be in a job I dislike. For instance in my
case I know the chances of me becoming an automotive designer are
slim, but the thought of a car on the road I designed means a lot
more to me than living in the designed world of someone else.
'Designers' sometimes get a bad reputation for being unrealistic
dreamers who like to use big words and show off. Do you find this
to be the case?
In my experience so far I have only met one designer and he seemed
like a nice guy, if I am honest I was expecting an arrogant attitude
towards me as a student but he had a lot of time for me.
Conceptual design is meant to be out of this world and show the potential
of the brand and the brands direction. I like to be a dreamer, the
norm is to boring, for instance look at the war of the worlds mentioning
lasers when they were not invented. From that book the insight and
desire to create that started the process, so today we have lasers.
A world without dreams would be static.
I wouldnít say all designers use big words, personally I hate it when
people make something sound more important, harder or interesting
through a bunch of bull, tell it straight.
How much time and effort do you have to put in compared with other
courses? Does it have any effect on social activities associated with
I would say any degree is a hard achievement, but within transport
design the competition starts as soon as you walk through the door,
I wish it wasnít that way but it is. This creates a problem as you
have to be as good as the next guy not just at your university but
the guy whoís already in the industry, what can you do to be different
and make a difference. I suppose this is why their are a high percentage
of drop outs. At the end of it I have a degree and hopefully a job,
if not I still have a degree that opens other doors I never knew about.
Uni life is good, just have to work hard and play hard.
Where would you like to be in ten years time?
Over the past 3 years a lot has changed so who knows where I will
be in 10 years time. In an ideal world I would be working for a major
player in the transport industry.
My main aim in life is to create a change, if it is away from the
transport industry, fair enough, but hopefully I will fulfill my dream
of having a car on the road that I contributed towards. In the modern
design world designers are getting younger, take for instance Mathew
Humphries, a 2004 graduate from Coventry University now having his
Aeromax concept in development for addition to the Morgan line
How to become a car designer
What makes a great car
Where do ugly cars come from?
Retro or Rehash?
21st Century muscle car race
Green car production facilities
Ascari Race Resort
Related sections of the site:
2005 - 2010