Born on 18 July 1933 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Mead graduated from high school in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1951. After serving a three-year enlistment in the U. S. Army, Mead attended the Art Center School in Los Angeles (now the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena), where he graduated in June 1959. He was recruited by Ford Motor Company's Advanced Styling Studio by Elwood Engel. Mead left Ford after two years to illustrate books and catalogues for companies including United States Steel, Celanese, Allis-Chalmers and Atlas Cement. In 1970, he launched Syd Mead, Inc. in Detroit with clients including Philips Electronics.