Am I fit to go into ID?

Hey everyone! I wasn’t too clear on what board to ask this question in, so feel free to correct me if I’m in the wrong one!

I’m 25 and graduated with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. I work as an HVAC engineer, designing ductwork and piping for buildings. After doing this for a few years now, it’s very clear to me that I don’t want to go on this path. I’ve done some career-soul searching for over a year now, when I stumbled on Industrial Design. It’s been the only career that seemed to resonate with me. However, doing research in the last month has left me more confused than anything. It’s hard to grasp what ID is, because it seems to be so general, but most things seem to point to the requirement to be artistic or studying fine arts.

I like art and science, but I definitely lean more towards science. As I’ve had no exposure to art, and I don’t sketch/draw or anything, would ID be a good fit for me? If so, how can I even get started without paying a hefty amount of money to go back to school again? I do have experience with SolidWorks back in college, and I use CAD programs, like AutoCAD and Revit, for work.

Thanks for reading!

Jellee - First its great to hear that ID inspires you and sorry that your current career is leaving you lacking. I will say that happens in every profession.

To answer you questions on if you can become and Industrial Designer without going to school or learning to sketch…Im sorry to say, but in my opinion the short answer is no. Sketching is a very important skill in the profession. In order for a designer to be successful they must be able to convey an idea in 2D media in a quick and efficient way. This includes sketches for a form exploratory, detailed sketches showing usability, or simply throwing down a sketch in a meeting to align the team. But this does not mean that you cannot work in the Industrial Design industry.

We all need Engineers, and most of all we all need CREATIVE Engineers. My suggestion to you would be for you to start checking out ID firms and start inquiring on their needs for MEs. Every ID firm has Mechanical Engineering on staff and they alway work hand and hand with the ID staff. Just because you are not throwing down the sketches does not mean you do not have a key role in the creation of the product. We rely on you to make our designs work.

I hope I wasn’t too harsh and hope this helps.


Justin is definitely right. Skills in sketching and visual communication are essential in the workflow as a designer.
But there is a lot more to it than being a skilled artist. I wish it was that easy.

Going through a tough ID program and a number of internships teach you not just to sketch and render but it also lets you develop other essential skills. A good eye for proportion, CMF, design strategy and creative problem solving.
These things take time to acquire and can’t be rushed.
If you were to compete with a fresh grad for an entry level position, I would definitely look for those skills. What good are perfect ellipses if they are devoid of meaning?

The way I see it you have two options to get into a the ID biz. Ether you do suck it up and go back to school or you look for an ME job at a consultancy.
Justin’s advice is spot on! Creative engineers with a passion for design are worth their weight in gold and you would be very much in demand. At my last consultancy job, I we had an amazing ME and he was one of the most important people in the office.
He was almost like a doctor you went to see if you had an issue.
Before presentations we had him “proof read” the concepts, pointing out production issues and make suggestions. I loved working with this guy.

But you wouldn’t be a designer. If you want to do that, I would strongly suggest returning to the school bench.

Thanks for the input guys! I don’t think the answer is too harsh. Any feedback is always good feedback to me :slight_smile:

I’ve been getting some feedback from others, and some suggest I look into product design or design engineering. How does this differ from ID? I looked online, but sometimes what I get back is that product design is equivalent to ID and design engineering is HVAC or civil engineering for bridges and buildings, neither of which I want to do.

To clarify, what I meant by sketching is that my sketches will not be akin to what an architectural sketch is like, with forms of people and color. In ME, we were taught to do hand sketches of products so that they could be manufactured. At my job, we also just do quick sketches of floor plans and sections of items to help explain our ideas or designs. However, there is less effort on our part to make our hand sketches look beautiful almost like a rendering in SketchUp, than the minimum amount of strokes needed to get the point across. I used to have experience drawing still life or things I found interesting outdoors, but those precise skills to draw an extremely realistic object have been sitting unused for about 3 years.

School, is of course, a definite option, but as I’m the only person making money for my family, at the moment I’m trying not to accrue even more debt that I cannot afford to pay off. I do intend to check out some schools eventually, but only when I’ve gained some more input from ID firms, or people within the industry. I’m also a bit worried I might be too old to be going back to school, as by the time I would graduate, I would be competing with much younger people.

To expand on my initial question about the school (I had tried wording the question so the post wasn’t going to turn into a TL;DR), are there any resources I can use to kick start getting into ID (or product design/design engineering)? Would you suggest any books to look into or programs to learn? What my course of action right now is to network as much as possible, read some guide books and take online free courses on programs and design, and practice practice practice until I can narrow some affordable schools down.

Bepster, you mentioned the ME guy at your old job. What would that position be called? It sounds pretty interesting and I would look into it!

I think you should expand your search beyond ID.

It is hard to tell what you actually want to do, I am under the impression you want to make new products.

New product development is populated by many professions. ID is unique in that there is no job outside of NPD for ID whereas while an engineer can be a part of the NPD process, they can have jobs in HVAC, civil, testing, etc.

NPD is an iterative process. You define the problem, create a solution for the problem, the evaluation of the solution will redefine the problem, you create another solution and so on and so on until ultimately a new product is launched.

In general, the are two groups who do this process. The first is the people who define and redefine the problem. They can be from many professions including but not limited to marketing, sales, psychology, communications, ID. Really, it is anyone who determines what the problem is directly from the customer.

The second group is the technical group who solves the problem. They also can be from many professions including but not limited to ID, graphic design, UX design, engineering and scientists (chemistry, physics, biology, etc).

So my advice would be before jumping directly into ID, figure out where you want to fit into the NPD process.

I believe his title was Sr. Mech. Engineer.
He has an engineering degree from MIT, I believe. Definitely a “smartest guy in the room” kinda guy.
Since the consultancy in the ID department is specialised in CE and other consumer products, that is where most of his experience was. Moulding and other manufacturing specific processes. If you want to work in that environment, you will need experience in these areas.
You would have to pitch yourself as the guy who can support the design team in these aspects as you got deeper knowledge as most Industrial Designers.

However, the question you will have to ask yourself is what role in the creation of a product do you want to play?
Do you want to be the guy coming up with the concept, both aesthetic and functional or do you want to help realize somebody else’s vision? If you want to be the former, you will (most likely) need professional aesthetic and conceptual training. And yes, sketching is one aspect of this.
Of course there is nothing wrong with being the latter. It’s just about finding your role in the process.

Thanks for that iab. That’s really helpful. I had probably jumped the gun with ID, as it seemed to be general and all encompassing. I didn’t realize there was that many more options. NPD is more what I would be interested in. I’ll look into some ID firms and what positions they have for some examples.

Bepster, that elaboration helps a ton! :smiley: Again, I was jumping the gun with ID since the information I kept getting about it seemed more general. Basically I would like to be geared more towards being tagged as a creative engineer who could contribute some design ideas, as opposed to a pure designer. I’m probably more along the lines of helping someone realize their vision either through engineering consultation or a bit of design contribution. I love doing the research on any and every product or looking at design concepts online and figuring out ways to improve it.

With that said, I’m getting a small circle of people together to meet up every so often to do some design activities and help each other along this line. Where they could help me focus more on how to think a bit more outside the box, I can help teach them more solid physics and materials concepts. Here’s to taking a first step to something!

Are there any additional tips you would have that I could look into to help guide myself in the right direction?

I did a Mechanical Engineering internship at a product design firm that specialised in complex medical devices. The Mechanical Design and Development team’s role was somewhat unique in that it didn’t advise on manufacturing etc (there was a whole different team for that), but instead did actual design, working closely with the Industrial Designers to match their usability requirements. In fact many of the ME’s also had degrees in ID. Maybe that’s the sort of job you’re looking for?

I agree. i also think you need to do a bit of homework on the background of ID and what the basics are. Basic traditional ID is NPD. Yes there are many different avenues that ID has gone down in the recent years (UX, Service Design, Design Thinking, etc…) but for you I feel NPD should be your focus.

The skills are an issue. Rough sketches of a floor plan is much different than detailed usability and sketching out a form exploratory. Stick with the skills you are good at. I am reading things around understanding of physics and mechanics. That is great! Where you are lacking in traditional design skills, a designer maybe lacking in your strengths. That is what makes a successful team. Trying to be something your not is only going to cause you frustration. Embrace your skills, master them and push them to new opportunities. When doing your homework, start to understand Engineerings role in NPD. Then evaluate your skills and look at where you are strong and where you may need to grow. You can then research design firms or corporate in-house design teams and start to understand how you may be a fit.

I would also encourage you to start networking. Reach out to either firms in your area, designers in the area, people you may find online, or whomever may interest you and start getting to know the community. Look into your local design organizations. If you are in the states, check out IDSA. Start conversations and ask all the questions that may be a bit fuzzy to you. Designers are always open to having a beer and chatting. It helps when you are buying. :smiley: That being said, make sure you are doing your homework and are educated with what you are looking for and how you want to get there.

Remember career changes take time especially when you are trying to do something totally new. The more prepared, and connected you are the happier you will be with your move.