Engineer transitioning into Designer

Hi I have a quick question about my career/educational path, I am currently working on a bachelors in Mechanical Engineering which I will finish in December of this year. Although I’m currently an engineering student I have always been interested in Industrial Design partly because I have always enjoyed art, e.g., sketching, painting. If I wish to work at a design firm as a designer should I;

  1. Minor in design
  2. Get a Masters in design
  3. Take a couple design courses

I’m thinking that a minor or just taking courses wouldn’t be enough to warrant such a position, and maybe employment might be hard to come by with a Masters and no real work experience in design. Might I be able to get hired as an engineer at a design firm and transition into a design position? I do have some work experience as an engineer (two years) or is such a transition unlikely? Any input would be much appreciated, thank you.

Welcome to the boards.

You might find these previous threads interesting;

… then use the word “engineer” in the search box at the top of the main Design Employment page; you should get something like 215 hits of the subject of the designer/engineer transition.

To see what you are up against, industry standard-wise, spend some time looking at the portfolios in the Coroflot section [click on “portfolios”]. As in the engineering disciplines, most of the folks that frequent this site have spent four or five years in school, plus years on the job, to attain the skill levels needed to succeed as working designers.

Thank you LMO your links were very helpful, you mentioned that engineers in design areas spend about 4 or 5 years in school and at least a year on the job. I am very pleased at this response because I will have obtained a bachelors in Mechanical Engineering as of December 2009 within the educational time frame you specified. As far as my work experience within Engineering I also have two years experience, one year within a consulting firm as a CAD drafter and another year within a manufacturing company where I a learned alot about manufacturing processes. I feel that the manufacturing job taught me many valuable skills, more so than my actual education, such a FEA analysis, capability studies, and a greater understanding of machining, machine design, and working with customers and deadlines. I feel that my work experience will get my foot in the door when it comes to an engineering position at a design firm, but will it help me parlay it into a design position? Is further schooling in the area of design needed?

but will it help me parlay it into a design position?

Is further schooling in the area of design needed?

Simply: No. And Yes.

If you are seeking a position as an Industrial Designer, you need to be proficient in the skill set of an industrial designer; especially sketching, manual rendering, 3d modeling, color, light, texture, graphics, photography, art history, materials and manufacturing processes, etc. That is why I suggested you spend some time looking through portfolio found in the Coroflot section of this website. While the ability to draw “pretty pictures” is not the only skills required of industrial designers, it is an essential one and basic to the profession.

If you are able to gain an engineering position within an industrial design consultancy, that will more than likely be your primary duty: mechanical engineering. As a “Design” firm they already have industrial designers, and while your awareness, and enthusiasm, for “design” most certainly help in landing the job, you will not likely have much to say about “design”. Some of your skills may overlap, but the rest will be very difficult to assimilate without formal training; essentially it comes down to “time in grade”. But this is just my take and I’m sure others will chime on the subject.

Here are a few portfolio references for you: