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The Art of Promotion in Car Design

Author: Martin Groschwald

When you have been working in the car design industry for example as a designer or modeller for a few years you start to think about one question more and more : Where do I want my career to move towards? If we break it down to a simple answer we will get 2 options: either you go down the path to become part of the management team or what is nowadays called the “expert” route and become a specialist in your skill area.

Here at Konzepthaus, we naturally get to speak about these careers paths often. Both with applicants for looking to advance their career but also hiring managers that are looking for the next generation in either direction.

Hiring new staff externally and/or promoting from the inside is something that is part of what all companies are doing every single day.

Interestingly, within the car design industry hiring or promoting are often times done not as you expect it to happen.

What do I exactly mean by that? We often times see that designers are promoted because of their ability to be creative. However, management requires much more than simply being creative. The skill to lead and manage is something that one can learn but it is also part natural talent. Some people such as Chris Bangle combine both creative and managerial talent with perseverance to become a top level design executive.

Others might be creatively extremely talented but limited in the ability to lead and manage – and of course vice versa. The former are the perfect example of a designer moving into an expert route, the latter moving into a management route.

When employees are with a company for a longer period, promotions are almost becoming a must-do factor. But why are these promotions often times not really aiming to promote the strengths of the people but rather what the manager thinks or believes would be the best way to keep the person happy? Would it not be more efficient to honestly discuss what a realistic, worthwhile and of course rewarding career path would be rather than just to promote for the sake of promotion? An honest conversation about skill, leadership and talent has done wonders to unhappy employees to find their right position in a team and company.

In many car companies, the career path of expertise is not as promoted as the managerial side – often times it is not even considered that the best designers should actually take this route. Which is strange as particularly in car design you would expect that the expert route would be more common to allow the people to play to their best strength.

A manager is not more important than an expert designer, neither is an expert designer more important than a manager. They are both an integral part of a successful design operation and should be treated and reimbursed the same or at least a very similar way (at least up to a certain level) to create an environment of success, happiness and of course confidence to develop the best possible products.

We should be honest: In a design team of 100 people, we do not require 15 managers and 15 designers. 8 Managers and 22 designers are often more flexible and efficient to run a successful organization.

We should all set the standard that not working as a manager is not a failure in your career path– not everyone can or even should be a manager and that is ok. You can be successful, acknowledged and praised to be an expert. Fame and fortune come in different ways and we should all embrace the new ways as much as the old ones.

I am looking forward to hear your feedback on the blog, stories that you’d like to share on personal experience and of course what you would change.

For more information please contact Martin Groschwald , please follow us on LinkedIn and Instagram and listen to GESTALTEN – the automotive design podcast for all news about the car design industry, also available on iTunes, Spotify and Youtube.