Become a Transportation Designer in 5 Steps

People rely heavily on the use of automobiles, roads, expressways, rail lines and other transit systems. Transportation designers are essential to keeping these systems working efficiently and to improving these systems. As a transportation designer, you may work within the civil engineering or industrial design fields; read on for a step-by-step guide to entering a career in transportation design. Schools offering Engineering & Technology Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is a Transportation Designer?

Also known as civil engineers, transportation designers work to design and build various transportation systems in both public and private areas. They determine the best routes to take and create convenient overpasses, bridges, tunnels and roads that allow for better travel rates. Not only do they consider the cost of construction, government regulations and potential hazards, but transportation designers may also be required to oversee the work to determine that all safety regulations are being adhered to.

What Does a Transportation Designer Do?

Transportation designers are tasked with creating new and convenient routes for travel. They consider all angles of the project, including survey reports, building materials, and other factors that may affect the route, and use design software to lay out their new roads, tunnels and bridges. In some instances, these professionals may be called upon to oversee the construction or take on administrative tasks to ensure all regulations are being followed.

Step 1: Research Transportation Designer Career Duties and Education

Transportation designers work in the fields of industrial design and civil engineering. They need to earn at least a bachelor's degree in transportation design, industrial design, civil engineering or a related subject. Civil engineers who work on public projects also need to earn licensure, and many of them earn a master's degree in order to advance to senior positions.

In the industrial design sector, transportation designers typically work on designing vehicles of transportation, including cars, public buses and airplanes, keeping in mind safety, functionality and aesthetics. If you work in this field, you may work on contemporary issues like designing electric cars that can operate for lengthy distances.

Civil engineers working in transportation typically focus more on infrastructure, designing and constructing transportation systems like roadways and train lines. For example, they might investigate traffic flow problems and devise methods to improve both flow and safety, or they may choose a site and design plans for a new international airport. As a transportation civil engineer, your job duties might include investigating environmental hazards like soil stability at potential construction sites, creating design plans that conform with various laws and building standards, choosing appropriate materials for construction and managing the quality of transportation systems.

Step 2: Complete a Degree Program

Industrial Transportation Design

If you are completing an industrial design education, you may earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree. There are a few programs offering majors specifically in transportation design, or you may complete a degree in industrial design that offers a concentration in transportation design. Although a bachelor's degree is sufficient for an entry-level job, master's degree programs in this field are also available.

In a transportation design degree program, you are likely to study subjects like vehicle architecture, aerodynamics, vehicle construction materials, interior design and exterior design. You gain skills in creating vehicle models through hand-drawing and computer programs, and you may study design for automobiles, public transportation, commercial transportation, motorcycles, marine vessels and aircraft. In addition to exploring essential design aspects like usability, safety and aesthetics, your program may also introduce you to current topics like sustainable design and alternative energy options for transportation. You may have opportunities to work on real-world design projects for companies, attend conferences and participate in design competitions.

Civil Engineering

On the other hand, you could complete a civil engineering degree program with a concentration in transportation engineering. Both undergraduate and graduate degree programs are available, and you might earn a BS, Master of Science (MS), Master of Engineering (MEng) or a PhD degree. Transportation design is more commonly offered as a concentration at the graduate level.

Civil engineering programs study the application of math and science to engineering projects. Most bachelor's degree programs take four years to complete and include courses in dynamics, fluid mechanics, structural analysis, structural design, environmental concerns, materials, production planning and management. Courses specific to transportation design cover traffic engineering, transportation planning, public transportation systems, air transit systems and maritime systems. Transportation designers should also take courses in computer-aided design. Many civil engineering programs offer cooperative education programs or internships to give you real-world job experience.

Step 3: Earn a License (for Civil Engineers)

Civil engineers that offer their services to the public must be licensed. There are usually a few steps to becoming fully licensed, starting out with earning a bachelor's degree in civil engineering, passing the Fundamentals of Engineering exam and obtaining initial licensure. Then, you must gain a certain amount of work experience and complete additional exams, along with any other state-specific requirements, before becoming a Civil Engineering (CE) Professional.

Step 4: Find a Job

Many transportation designers work as consultants or on the design staff for engineering firms, though they may also work at vehicle design companies. Job opportunities may be better in urban or highly populated regions where roads, bridges and other public transportation systems need to be improved or replaced.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an 8% increase in employment of all civil engineers that would create 23,600 new jobs is expected in the 2014-2024 decade. However, only a 2% growth in employment for all commercial and industrial designers, equating to 800 new jobs, is forecast during that time frame.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

Designers often start in entry-level positions requiring supervision and then advance into positions of more responsibility and authority; earning a master's degree is often important for civil engineers who want to become project managers. Transportation designers may consider earning an MBA if they're interested in independent business. Designers who don't have an engineering degree may consider earning one to become professional engineers in the area of transportation design. Professional certification, such as that offered by the American Society of Civil Engineers or the Institute of Industrial Engineers may also increase advancement opportunities.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you're unsure that becoming a transportation designer is the right career path for you, but are still interested in pursuing an architectural degree, you may want to consider becoming a surveyor or construction manager. While both positions require a bachelor's degree in a construction-related field, surveyors are more task-specific in that they work with measurements to determine the lay of the land and construction managers have a broader job description of overseeing and budgeting the entire project from start to finish.

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