James Kelly has a clear priority in his job as director of the department of transportation design at the University of Pforzheim, Germany: his students.
Kelly feels an immense responsibility toward the young people he is training to become automotive designers. 'You produce, form and direct their careers - and sometimes their lives,' he says. 'It's a big challenge. They will eventually create the cars of the future.'
Since 1992, when Scotsman Kelly took over, the department has built up an international reputation. A diploma from the school is regarded as equivalent to one from the Royal College of Art in London, the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, USA, or the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit.
At Pforzheim, 10 students are typically selected out of about 60 applicants to join the transportation design course. They are often offered jobs in the automotive industry before the course ends.
'Sometimes this is earlier than it is good for their personal development,' Kelly says with regret. 'If they stop their studies just to take on a job, they can make a big mistake.
'When you are young and a big manufacturer suddenly offers you a well-paid job, it is very tempting. I can understand that. But you have to sit back, relax, and tell yourself other opportunities will arise.'
Kelly himself took a direct route into the industry. He studied industrial design at university in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. He then added two years in London at the Royal College of Art, graduating in transportation design with a master's degree. Six years at Ford in the UK and Germany followed, where he contributed to the styling of the Sierra, Escort and Fiesta.
Kelly then left Ford to start his own automotive design studio.
When Uwe Bahnsen, his former design boss at Ford, employed him as a part-time teacher at the Art Center College of Design in Vevey, Switzerland, the Kilmarnock-born creative realized how much he enjoyed working with students. Kelly quickly built up a top-level reputation which led to an offer to run Pforzheim's department of transportation design.
Although Kelly could vastly improve on his professor's salary by returning to work in the automotive industry, he is very happy in his current role.
'Never say never, but it would be very difficult to step back from what I do today,' he says. 'What could I achieve being employed by one company? I would be supervising the design of one or two show cars a year, and looking three years into the future at the most. But with my students I do 80 show cars a year.'
Kelly adapts his design teaching to the auto industry's needs. Students spend one out of the eight-course semesters working in the industry. Pforzheim also offers a computer modeling course.
But exposure to different cultures is just as important, says Kelly. 'The impressions you get from other cultures, other countries, and other lifestyles are extremely useful.'
To offer a broad international experience for students, Kelly is organizing joint design projects with other schools. Cooperations with schools in China, Japan, America and Australia are already established.
Just as the auto industry speeds towards globalization, so Kelly is improving Pforzheim's reputation through its links across the globe.