College for Creative Studies: Product Design


Chris Jones

Tesla Motors

Concept Digital Modeler

Chris Jones may have majored in industrial design as a student, but it was a photography project that ignited his passion as an artist.

“While at CCS, I was required to take photos for one of my industrial design classes,” recalled Jones. “I bought my first film SLR at that time. In 2004, I switched over to digital and purchased a Nikon Coolpix 5700— just a step above a point and shoot. I started doing artistic portraits of a friend as part of a student alumni show put on by the BART group at CCS. I officially got the buzz!

“Eager to dive into the field of photography, I bought my first DSLR, started networking with models and makeup artists and transformed my living room into a studio. I upgraded a couple of years later to my own studio. Today, I am fortunate to work at a company (Tesla) that has given me opportunities to continue developing my skills as photographer (and a strong portfolio) as well as an Alias modeler.”

In his position as a concept digital modeler, Jones creates models on the screen. But unlike a CAD designer, his work emphasizes more of the project’s look rather than the mechanicals underlying it. Jones has also done product shots of Tesla’s cars and accessories. Many of his photos appear on the company’s website.

“I work with both designers and engineers,” explained Jones. “The designer starts with a sketch, and the engineer gives us parameters to work within. I take info from both of them to build the design on the computer. It’s a back and forth process to make sure the designer is happy and the engineering specs are achieved.

“A lot of the projects that I’ve collaborated on during the two years I’ve worked at Tesla haven’t been released, so I can’t reveal too much yet. But it has been extremely helpful for me to be so involved in the overall process. There’s so much that goes into these products!”

Prior to his position at Tesla, Jones worked on projects for Fisker Automotive, ATG, Ford, Modelo and General Motors. One of his first assignments was to design the wheel for the 2001 Seville STS.

“That was the first time creating something, then seeing it as a finished production product,” said Jones. “Plus, I was really excited to work on it because I like Cadillac.

“Another of my favorite projects was a car called the Rally Fighter. ATG was assisting a company called Local Motors with engineering and feasibility for the car. The basic model was already built on the computer, but I did the final production work and implemented changes from the design department.

"Little did I know that the car would be featured in the new Transformers movie!”

Jones’s photos have appeared in Hour Detroit, and KUA bags as well as other print and online publications. 

“The designer in me leans toward fashion because I like shooting people in artistic ways,” Jones explained. “A lot of the technique translates nicely into the automotive photography I’ve been focusing on lately. Intersection magazine has been my inspiration for this. I’ve also discovered that my knowledge of product design—how to construct and build things—has been a huge asset to me as a photographer. Being able to do staging and wardrobe for my shoots, makes my work more personal.”

Although Jones has had a lifelong tendency toward creativity, he credits CCS for helping him develop as a designer and an artist.

“At CCS, instructors show you the right way, then show you where you are in relation to that. It puts your skill level in perspective and makes you improve. That's one of the reasons my photography skills have increased so quickly. Once I have a goal, I go for it. After CCS, I feel that there isn't anything I can’t do.” said Jones.