Can and Should Industrial Design and Engineering...

I am a student who has been debating continueing my education in Industrial Design or Engineering. I started my education at McGill University in Architecture and my father is a professional artist - so if anyone questions my creative apptitude for ID - my portfolio was enough to get me into a very reputable University’s Architecture program - so I don’t want to turn this into a debate over whether I would get into an ID program or have the creative/artistic ability to be a designer, but rather the value of a broad based education that encompasses both ID and Engineering vs. one that is strictly ID or Eng.

I quickly realized that buildings weren’t my passion, but not knowing what ID was for the during the first 5 years of my education, I worked on an unrelated BA. Since finding out about ID, I have been working for the past year and a half to save for my education and during that time have tried to answer my own questions and dilemmas by following the discussions, portfolios, etc. on this site and reading the extremely limited material that addresses my questions.

My interests in the design world include Skis, Bikes, and other sports equipment, Heavy Trucks, Heavy Equipment, Agricultural Equipment, Cars, Wind Turbines, Irrigation Systems, etc. Things like wind turbines and irrigation systems lean more towards engineering, but the others are full of both aspects.

While I love the work enviroment of engineers out in the field, at mines, playing with machinery, mud, dirt, etc. I also love being in a studio - maybe I am looking for a balance that doesn’t exist and will have to choose between the two.

All this being said I have spent the happiest times in my life (outside of those environments, or sports) either in High School Art classes, or a pile of LEGO and always felt like something was missing at University because I wasn’t solving problems and creating things.

If you have managed to bear with the above - now come the specific questions to start the discussion:

  1. In a case such as this do people see degrees in both Engineering and Design as
    complementary, rather than oppositional?
  2. Has anyone ever looked at the Integrated Engineering Program and the
    University of British Columbia, or the Design Eng. at Berkeley? What do you
    think of them?
  3. Does doing the Int. Eng. program at UBC and then following it with the
    Transportation design program at Umea make sense for someone like me?
  4. Does it sound like I should be choosing ID or Eng. instead of trying to combine
    them? If so which seems to be more suited to what I want to do?
  5. Can anyone suggest single programs that might offer the kinds of things I am
    looking for? (In locations where skiing and mountain biking are possible? :wink:

In nearly two years of debating these questions I have found very few clear answers on what would best prepare me to break into the areas of industry that interest me and so would really appreciate anyone who has had/taken the time to read this - and help me out with some answers and suggestions.

Please don’t turn this into another session of ID’ers bashing engineers and vice versa. I firmly believe that one person can have an apptitude for both and that they are complimentary disciplines. As well as answers to my specific questions I would love to read discussion of the instances of/ways in which these two fields can be combined/complimentary.

You know, some people charge serious money for professional counseling attempts like this. But here goes…

First, I find absolutely appalling (though not entirely surprising) one can still go through 5 years of any architecture program (let alone McGill’s) and never find the slightest trace of the existence of the industrial design profession. We IDers all know architecture and engineering are each taught in its own ivory tower vacuum and product design is not exactly a high-profile field of study, but still. If this is not an image problem, what on earth is ?

You may be surprised to find out an architecture degree and portfolio may not be the easy passport to design school you think. That’s because ID requires creative thinking on a vastly different scale than Arch. and definitely of a less-abstract and philosophical/poetic/artistic nature. While many parallels do exist, ID tends to being a more hands-on type of problem-solving of a multitude of immediate details. Note « immediacy » differentiates the two disciplines to a large extent, not only in the obvious sense of common project duration, but in the nature of typical technical, economic and usability problems to solve. That said, no universal rule exists saying an architect or engineer cannot make an equally competent designer, especially since both Arch. and Eng. are concerned with design at their core. But such individuals are very rare, there are many more misfits and just plain opportunists among them.

What I deplore is the strong educational bias – at the dawn of the 21st century - in both architects and engineers to believe ID is a natural part of their turf and essentially a minor extension of their skill base. It doesn’t matter they’d been practicing for years when they first heard of ID, but it looks cool and relatively easy to tackle, so hey, why not? You don’t see the opposite happening and certainly no degreed industrial designers without any architecture or engineering knowledge.

Reading your story I get the feel you’re in for a tough sales job, as often are career switchers. It can be done but it’s no walk in the park especially if you are considering 4-5 more school years and later competing for the same jobs with others younger, and maybe less tired than you. In my experience, a previous Eng. or Arch. degree is next to useless when applying for an entry-level ID job where the work parameters are pre-defined for exactly that – a junior IDer trained at that and no more. So, business reality check no. 1 for you: many potential customers of your product/service may like your offering but budgeted for something they already know, can immediately relate to and doesn’t break the bank. With two university degrees, you’ll be in the position of trying to sell a Volvo to the Toyota crowd.

To briefly answer your questions…

  1. Design and Engineering are seen as complementary in firms small and large where teamwork-based projects prevail. However, this doesn’t imply firms necessarily hire «combo» design-engineer types, i.e. the job market reality is much more rigid and segmented than you think or would like it to be. Technical professionals still get hired based on their educational boxes – as mechanical engineers, product designers, mold technicians, graphic designers, etc. Educational versatility is no substitute for a varied work experience with measurable results.

  2. There are design engineering magazines, such as Design News, you can consult for market prospects, but the basis there is usually either mechanical or electrical Eng. I don’t think Berkeley offers a «design » Engineering degree as such, but some French and German universities offer mechanical engineers the option of tacking on an extra 2 years of industrial design courses and projects, making for well-rounded engineers better suited to extrapolative mechanical design work, but still not turning them into full-fledged industrial designers, with all ID implies.

  3. I have a suggestion for you – how about going straight for a design Master at UMEA now and forget about Berkeley and UBC, which I think will confuse (and contradict) your professional baggage to date more than anything. Imagine: architecture – engineering – design. Impressive on the wall but you’ll be looking for your first design job at what age? Remember one major truth about the world of ID : firms pay for WORK, not EDUCATIONAL experience. What you want is to jump into the grinder while you’re young and get your hands into the dough, not read the recipe until you’re 40.

  4. Answered above. Stop collecting degrees. Seriously. Payback is not what you think.

  5. France especially, but you’ll have to do your own detailed search.

Lots of luck to you. Make sure you stay healthy and wealthy for your coming journey, you’ll need both.

Egg - Thank you for an excellent and well thought out response to my questions. You have done better than the career counsellors who charge a lot of money for that kind of thing and haven’t been able to give me any insight from within the design/engineering world. The one thing that may change how I would take your advice is that I started in Architecture - didn’t go further than first year before realizing it wasn’t the right degree/path for me. So I don’t actually have that degree - mine will be when done in another year geography/political science, which is what I have been doing while trying to figure out what I really want to do. If I could get the background to get into Umea without doing another full degree I would go without hesitation - but I think they require at least some design background, not just a portfolio demonstrating ability - correct me if I am wrong.

France? I speak fluent French, but had never considered studying in France. I guess I should look at the schools and programs available.

I will keep everything in that you have said in mind - you make me lean more towards ID and away from engineering. Thank you again for your time and the quality of your advice.

Still look forward to seeing what anyone else might have to contribute.

Masters progs are populated with people from different backgrounds trying to learn ID. Umea does not to my knowledge require a design background. However it is a great school and you would stand a better chance if you had a good portfolio

  1. they dont see anything. at consulting firm it became sales edge. nothing more. at corporate the roles were too rigid. real advantage is getting respect of engineers. they mostly dont listen to ID. they listened to me.

  2. no. would have doubts of any integrated program.

  3. its your choice.

i’m also into transportation, wind turbines and agri systems. lot of engineering there. but canned software makes engineering less difficult today in some ways. enter parameters. spit out results. understanding results and assumptions are the real engineering. still rare to find good engineers. lot of canned app, do-it-same-as-last-time people. almost same as ID. a 3D app doesnt create a design. a degree in one and basic understanding in other might be good for you.

i decided on two degrees when i was 17. you have bigger disadvantage. suggest you stick with one or other for now. maybe engineering. mentally harder. good to do it now when education is still in your brain. ID imo is easier to get into later in life. more experiences. more observation. and it’s more passionate. if you want it you’ll do it.

  1. “In locations where skiing and mountain biking are possible?”

if you want to do this then do it right. dump the skiing and biking. competition is getting harder and harder in all fields. study your a$$ off first. get a good job. then party.

good luck. it’ll be a long haul.

sorry bout the msn thingy btw.

i am a engineer and a designer, although the designing comes second i still love it as much as i do the engineering.

you are true in saying that you need a balence with the two which is inportant but at the same time the balence must be more centered toward your main centre of income so you can fund the second.

i myself have this balence and it is still hectic and almost impossible to do but you have to try. sorry i dont know of any of the schools or anything the uk aint got any i dont think.

regards british_rob