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So you want to be a car designer?

Passion for design and choosing the right school are essentials for success

Published: March 8, 2014, 2:00 AM
Updated: April 29, 2018, 11:58 AM

Jeff Hammoud - Chrysler 200 Designer

One typically expects auto designers to have roots in Italy or sunny California. It’s safe to say Guelph, Ontario, doesn’t leap to mind as a hotbed of automotive design.

Don’t say that to Jeff Hammoud, however – he’s from Guelph and he's been shaping the designs of Chrysler Group products for 10 years.

Hammoud works at the company’s studios in Auburn Hills, Mich, and his boss – Ralph Gilles, senior vice-president of product design for Chrysler Group – was also raised in Canada.

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Hammoud, 34, is exterior design manager for the Chrysler and Fiat brands and he’s the designer responsible for the distinctive, aerodynamic look of the all-new 2015 Chrysler 200 mid-size sedan. Previous to that assignment, he designed the exterior of the current-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee.

He admits he’s always had an affinity for exterior design. "To me, it’s the first part of a vehicle that people get interaction with. Interiors are where people fall in love with the car, but the exterior is the first reaction, where the passion begins."

Unconventional path

Hammoud concedes the road from small-town Ontario to the hub of the North American auto industry was somewhat unusual, but designing cars has been a lifelong passion.

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His success, however, demonstrates that young Canadian designers can succeed in this business. Following the right path to that goal, however, is essential.

"That was a challenge for me because when you want to be a designer and you’re so young, you talk to a lot of people and there is a lot of misconception about what a car designer is," says Hammoud. "When I tell people I’m a car designer, they think, ‘Oh, so what part did you work on?’ They think it’s engineering, which is a totally different thing."

In fact, Hammoud initially enrolled in an engineering program until he realized that’s not where he needed to be. He gathered up a portfolio of his design work and submitted it to The College for Creative Studies in Detroit, where he was accepted and started his studies in Automotive Design.

"The degree is actually called Industrial Design, and then you basically major in automotive design," says Hammoud, who moved to Windsor and commuted across the Detroit River to the college.

School choice is key

For aspiring design students, Hammoud says there are other possible schools to consider, including the Art Centre in Pasadena, California , and the Cleveland Institute of Arts.

"You’ve got to look at the schools that get a lot of influence from the automotive industry," he advises. "The one I went to in Detroit gets a lot of professionals that come to the school, who teach there and also give sponsored projects. That’s how you get interaction with some of the companies. That’s actually where I met Ralph Gilles – he was my teacher at the school."

Hammoud was hired by Chrysler directly after he graduated in 2004 and was immediately assigned to the Advanced Design Studio’s Conceptual Department, in Auburn Hills.

Do you have what it takes?

If you’re wondering if you have what it takes to be a car designer, Hammound offers this advice: "You need to be very artistic, obviously. There’s a lot of sketching and drawing – and you need to be passionate about it. It’s critical. That’s the number one thing because there are long hours and all-nighters.

"You have to have a passion for this because it’s very competitive, not only to get into the schools, but also to actually get hired after you graduate. It’s always the guys who love it and know they want to do it who are the ones that succeed."