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ALLAN MACDONALD

For a long time whilst studying in high school my intention was to become a graphic designer. For many reasons however this prospect did not excite me, but at the time I could not see any other options. I still remember the exact moment it occurred to me that I could link my enjoyment of designing and drawing with my love of all things automotive. I was at school, and for some reason was doodling a car when the idea came to me that somebody must do this for a living. I started looking into the possibilities of this straight away since my graduation from high school was less than a year away. Very soon I discovered the Transportation Design course at Coventry University.

I read all I could about the course, and phoned the University to find out more about what I would be required to to have a chance of being accepted. It was obvious that competition would be fierce. I knew my folio would need a lot of work, as at the time it was virtually empty. I decided the best thing to do would be finish school and take a year off to work on building a folio suitable for getting into Coventry. I enrolled in as many sketching and drawing night classes as I could, even if these had nothing to do with design. I have always been able to draw, I knew however that to stand a chance I would have to make sketching and drawing second nature.  I had been told by the lecturers at Coventry that an important part of your folio is that it shows you can think across a wide range. By setting projects I was able to motivate myself to sketch constantly, as well as build a folio that had structure and showed that I was able to come up with wide and varied ideas.

Very quickly the time for the interview at Coventry arrived. I travelled from Scotland with my parents and we all had a look around Coventry . At the time I was not really that impressed. Coming from the countryside meant that city life seemed a bit too depressing at first (my first few months at university soon showed me otherwise). The interviews were very quick and informal, based around you talking through your folio and what you hope to achieve in the future. It was the waiting afterwards that took forever. Thankfully I got accepted, and was told that one of the reasons was that my folio showed a good range of ideas and thinking.

University life was a lot of hard work, but fun. It was however frustrating seeing how talented some of the other students were, and knowing that my skills were not up to their level. This I also learned is one of the great assets of studying. These frustrations really pushed me to practice, and very quickly my skills started to grow. Meeting new people was also a fantastic opportunity offered by going to study. Today I have friends working in design studios all around the world, many of whom I met in my four years at Coventry.

One of the best opportunities offered by studying at Coventry was the longstanding agreements with many design studios to take students on placements. I was lucky enough to be accepted to spend six months working in the VW Design studio in Wolfsburg. I believe that in this six months I learned more than I had in the previous two years at Coventry. That's not to say that I learned nothing at school, its just that you cannot compare it to how much you will learn on the job.

After finishing my studies at Coventry I was offered a job immediately by ARUP Design Research. I started working at their design centre the day after the degree show finished. With hindsight this was probably a bad idea and I would advise anybody finding themselves in the same situation to make sure you take a bit of a vacation before starting your new job. The job at the consultancy however proved both interesting and challenging. Consultancy work involves many different disciplines and the work is extremely fast paced. I learned a lot in this time, and it was at Design Research that I first learned Photoshop. I stayed with the consultancy for about nine months before moving to Rover.

I started at Rover in their post BMW days, and the team was therefore a small one. Whilst there I was able to participate in the designing of the 2002 Geneva show car, the TCV. Unfortunately my design was not selected for the final vehicle, I was however asked to design the wheels, which eventually went to Geneva on the car. I enjoyed about a year at Rover before deciding that I needed a fresh challenge, and perhaps take the opportunity to live and work abroad. One of my passions besides cars has always been trucks (my father is a truck driver) and for this reason I decided to look into becoming a truck designer.

I sent my folio to Volvo Trucks and was immediately asked to travel to Sweden for an interview. In the end I came over for two interviews, and was eventually accepted for a job. Moving permanently abroad proved to be an easier task than I first worried it might be. Very soon I settled into the life here and began taking Swedish lessons. One of the great things about Sweden however is the fact that most people here speak fantastic English. Whilst this does make it easier during day to day life and work, it does make it a little harder to learn the language. Volvo Trucks gave me fantastic opportunities to work on projects that due to technical and legal constraints are far more thought provoking and challenging than my experiences of car design. I have also been able to take and pass my full truck driving licence.

After five great years at Volvo, I decided it was time to have a change of scenery, so made the move from Volvo on the west coast, to Scania Trucks on the Swedish east coast.  That was in 2007, and have again enjoyed the new challenges a new company brings.

I hope that my story has been interesting to those of you who are hoping to also become car designers.  I wish you all well in your efforts, with the advice to never...ever stop sketching.

Allan Macdonald, Creator and Editor of DesignerTechniques.
page last updated; 2014-06-15
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