College for Creative Studies: Transportation Design


Dong Tran

Icon Aircraft (Los Angeles, CA)

Lead Designer

What Dong Tran (’09) appreciates most about his degree in transportation design is the freedom it allowed him to pursue exactly what he wanted.

Tran is a lead designer at ICON Aircraft in Los Angeles and is currently working on the production interior and exterior of the ICON A5, the company’s first line of sport planes.

“Right out of school, I was able to pursue the career path/position I wanted, go where I wanted and choose from among opportunities presented to me—even though I had some hard choices to make!” said Tran. “I will always consider these as my greatest accomplishments in both my professional and personal life.

“I enjoy the fact that what I do involves more playing than work. It’s exciting to be part of a company whose sole purpose is to excite people and be awesome at every level. I enjoy getting up every day and coming to work knowing that I’m about to contribute in bringing an amazing product to life— from sketch to reality. Everyone I work with at ICON is truly world class in every way, and I am constantly learning new things.”

As a lead designer, Tran is involved in the process of  helping define ICON’s design department as well as leading interior/exterior design and refinement of production and the future product lineup.  

“Everyone at Icon has many shoes to fill as it is still considered a startup,” he explained. “My position is unique since ICON as a company itself is breaking new ground within the aviation industry. ICON is one of few aircraft companies to truly embrace industrial design as an important aspect of its products.

“The design department that I have the privilege of working with here at ICON is similar to those at other automotive/product/motorcycle design studios. The only main difference is that when I arrived at ICON, I was able to be involved with helping develop our design program under the direction of former BMW Designworks creative director, Klaus Tritschler whom I had gotten to know during my internship at BMW while at CCS.”

In his past year at ICON, Tran has experienced some of the challenges involved in production programs. He says that one of the biggest challenges at ICON also happens to be one of its greatest draws—the startup mentality.

“Everything is always on the verge of a breakthrough,” said Tran. “You are always on edge, and so is everyone else in the company… Details regarding the production A5 is and will remain confidential until it goes to market by early next year, but I can reveal that the A5 has just hit a major milestone over the last few weeks that involves safety.”

Tran credits the relationships he developed with faculty and other students at the College for Creative Studies as building his confidence as an emerging designer.

“Several professors supported me both personally and professionally,” he said. “Bryon Fitzpatrick as well as Larry Erickson and Mark West provided me with great leadership and support when it came to where I wanted my education to go. I was very blessed to have such a great support structure...  

“I believe the greatest asset I experienced at CCS was the camaraderie among my peers. Our class was so strong because we leaned on each other."

We created a level of competition that really helped everyone pull through and create work of the highest quality.”

While Tran’s busy work schedule doesn’t allow much extra time, he does manage to maintain a healthy set of personal hobbies related to design that fulfill his “need to tinker.”

“I love to work on anything mechanical and own quite a few two-wheeled and four-wheeled toys that I work on if I have spare time,” said Tran. “I also build motorcycles as well as dune buggies and am currently working toward my sports flying license. I think this comes with the territory of working at an aircraft company.

“My long term goals have always been to branch off and do what I truly want to do. I have never been someone to hold back the fact that I want to learn as much as I can and get as much experience as I can to eventually start something myself. I think this might be the ultimate goal for most people, true design freedom.”