Academy of Art University Grad Doodles His Designs into the Automotive Industry


Vermont winters couldn’t cool Academy of Art University graduate Steve Goodrich’s passion for doodling cars and trucks as a kid. In fact, he was the student always doodling on his paper even while taking notes in class. Goodrich had no idea how to take his doodling from school notes to a career, but one fateful day while in high school, he browsed the New York Auto Show and encountered a booth for the Academy of Art University.

For over 80 years, Academy of Art University has been providing valuable arts-related education from its San Francisco, California home. In that time, thousands of graduates from over 112 countries have received training for careers in television and movies, gaming, architectural design, fashion design, sculpting, broadcasting, technical drawing, and industrial design, to name only a few.

Goodrich is still doodling cars and trucks, but now his images have become reality. He now designs real cars, most recently, the exterior of the 2018 Jeep Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Wrangler. The new Jeep was revealed at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2017.

Mapping the Road to His Future

Most high school juniors at an auto show dream of driving the cars, but Goodrich had other goals in mind. “At the show, I was looking around to see what I could do with drawing cars in college,” he said. “I came across a lot of technical engineering schools but that wasn’t what I wanted. Then I stumbled on the [Academy] booth and found out car design was actually a career you could pursue. I was super excited and went to the Academy’s Summer Art Experience that same year. I absolutely loved it and went straight to the School of Industrial Design after I graduated from high school.”

Academy of Art University’s School of Industrial Design sits at the crossroads where art, culture, technology, and business intersect. Its students and graduates are on the cutting edge, wrestling with the artistic and intellectual challenges facing the design industry. As in all departments at the university, our students are taught by actively working creatives who are currently engaged in their field. Industrial Design graduates are sought by such leading companies as Adidas, Hasbro, The North Face, Nike, Kohler, Samsung, and automotive giants like General Motors and BMW.

Antonio Borja, Director of the School of Industrial Design at the university, remembers Goodrich well. “Steve had an extremely strong work ethic and that inner drive to push himself to get better every day,” stated Borja. “As talented as he was, he always had time to help other students. Our department is like a little family—we encourage students to work hard and compete with each other. But the team’s objectives come first. That’s the kind of culture we want and that’s helped us build a good reputation in the industry.”

Goodrich was introduced to the auto industry with an internship at Nissan while still a student at the Academy. After graduation, he worked a while for Volvo before joining FCA U.S. LLC as an exterior designer. Four-and-a-half years later he has progressed from the company’s Jeep studio to his current position as a senior exterior designer in the advanced design studio. Goodrich worked on design concepts for the 2018 Jeep Wrangler for approximately three years.

Driving His Dreams

Leading the design team for the 2018 Jeep Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Wrangler was a dream come true for Goodrich, a 2009 Academy of Art University grad with a B.F.A. from the School of Industrial Design. He shares, “To have a chance to influence the exterior of such an iconic vehicle is an honor and an amazing experience, so finally getting to reveal it, and get reactions to it, has been awesome. I was involved in the design process from start to finish, which was incredible, because I learned a lot.”

Goodrich and his team took their designs first to clay scale models. However, the mechanical nature of their design target demanded that most of the work be accomplished with 3D sculpting software. With a set of refined designs in hand, it was time to take them to Chrysler engineers to forge the images into reality. Goodrich says the most challenging aspect of the entire project was keeping the Jeep’s rugged looks, which are legendary, while making it more aesthetically appealing to customers.

“The Jeep Wrangler is such an icon, you don’t want to mess that up. It’s a very functional vehicle and the off-road capability is amazing. Sometimes as an exterior designer, you just want to go sketch something that looks really cool. For this project, it was important that the design not only looked cool but added function and made the Jeep even better. We did a lot of work to keep the design true to the Jeep’s heritage.”

A few design elements Jeep aficionados may recognize are the front grill that retains an influence from earlier CJ models and a new fender design inspired by the vintage Willys Jeep of World War II army fame.

Academy of Art University Gives Students an Edge

Steve Goodrich credits his training from Academy of Art University for preparing him to begin a career in auto design, and that includes the opportunity to develop a network of industry professionals. “Getting to know those people while you’re still in school is very important,” he said. “I got my internship at Nissan as a result of meeting people in the industry who came to the school for portfolio reviews and looked at our work at Spring Show and other events. It’s really about the relationships you build and getting your name out there before you graduate.”


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