Engineering to ID Undergrad

Hey all,

I’m currently in my final year of an undergraduate engineering bachelor’s degree in Canada. I intend on studying ID after I graduate, but its hard to know how to approach it. Engineering seems to be a good complementary degree to have, once its all over and done with, but has not provided me with any practical “design” skills to market myself to schools with.
I’m just wondering what your opinions are in regards to how I should get into the field:

-Apply to undergrad programs such as Carleton and ECUAD with my limited portfolio of sketches, solid modeling from high school, and landscape design?

-Take a year off after graduation to take night classes and whatnot to build a more impressive portfolio before doing the above?

-Apply to the more “technically” focused Masters programs at the University of Calgary (ID in the School of Environmental Design) and the University of Alberta? These programs seem to require less of a portfolio and UofC explicitly states that it accept undergrads from engineering. However, I’m looking to develop skills on the artistic side, which seem to be less of an emphasis in these programs. In any case, I might not have the fundamental skills necessary to jump into this at this level.

Also, I am looking for others who have started a second bachelor’s degree after graduating from their first. Is there any chance that they would take courses from my previous degree as credit? I’ve been looking at the ECUAD Foundation Year courses, and none of them look as though they could be replaced with my engineering courses, but 4 years of engineering courses, taken as a whole, might be able to replace something…

Anyways, sorry for the long post, and thanks in advance for any advice / insight that you can provide.


I’m in ECUAD and have a friend with a BA in Science already, and she was able to bypass some academic electives. Though I highly recommend to take some of those electives like ergonomics and Manufacturing and Process classes.

If you decide to take some art classes to improve your portfolio I’d kill 2 birds w/1 stone and take courses that’s needed for foundation year so you’ll have a lighter work load the 1st year (like drawing 1 & 2). ECUAD has some adult classes that are ID orientated (ask to see if those can be transferred for some foundation credits though).

So it sounds as though I might be able to cut some electives here and there, but nothing to shorten the program. That’s pretty much what I expected, but its at least good to know that I might be able to cut some electives (I’m taking and Ergonomics and Design course, albeit from an engineering perspective, right now). I could take some foundation classes beforehand, but it sounds like it would only serve to improve my portfolio. That’s not a bad thing, but I’m just saying that if I displaced them from Foundation Year to now, it might serve to lighten the load then, but it would increase it during my final semesters here.

In short, I’m looking at either:

  • a full 4 year undergraduate program with a couple of transferred elective credits
  • a 2-4 year masters at UofA or UofC

Any insight into either of these options? advice? Thanks again, much appreciated.

I think combining the two degrees is excellent idea, not very many people have done this. I’ve worked with two engineer-designers, both absolutely excellent in both fields. Also, at clients’ site during meetings and presentations, their work, comments and questions were very well received.

I also did this. I applied for several course exemptions, awarded only one - first semester English! In hindsight, it’s probably for the better: repeating some curriculum isn’t going to lessen your knowledge. Also, courses may sound similar, but content and intent is very different. No design school teaches fracture mechanics, stress, strain, modal, linear and nonlinear analysis; but they do introduce you to the wonders of model making and plastics molding with maybe a plant tour if you’re lucky.

Most design programs are very iterative: product design studio 1 - product design studio 2, materials 1, 2, etc. Students jumping ahead is difficult to conceive. The instructors will give out many team based assignments, they probably don’t want one of the team skipping out from many of their classmates.

Any art skill upgrading you can do will be worthwhile, probably mainly for self confidence.

A reasonable engineering graduate portfolio will probably be viewed with interest at whatever school you choose. They aren’t accepting designers into a design program, that’s the raison d’etre of the program. So you with some knowledge of mechanics, materials, process and analysis will probably be viewed as excellent candidate, as opposed to the 100 teen agers showing drawings of furry manga characters.

Reading through previous threads regarding Masters vs Undergraduate, it seems as though the consensus is that undergraduate is necessary in order to build related skills and that a Masters program in ID should only be undertaken if you have already obtained those skills, through experience or some other arts degree.

The self-confidence point is a very good one, and I’ll definitely work on sketching and look to take a course here and there, perhaps in the summer.

How could I incorporate my engineering education into my portfolio?
I know that, if done successfully, it could showcase the unique perspective derived from my previous education, and show that I know how to problem solve and work collaboratively. However, no projects that I have completed are particularly aesthetically pleasing. The majority of them are technical reports, maybe with a few engineering drawings of boring things such as a gear reduction system. Do I include this? Do I rely on explanatory notes to describe the thought process that is, at its essence, very similar across engineering and design? Any ideas on how I could maximize my engineering education when it comes to putting together my portfolio? Thanks a lot!

Do you mind if I ask what is your Engineering major? Mechanical?

The self-confidence point is a very good one, and I’ll definitely work on sketching and look to take a course here and there, perhaps in the summer.

It is true that a at least basic knowledge about the classic skill set is important before going into the Masters. But that is optained relatively quickly. What in my opinion is much more important than slick sketches and hand renderings going into the the masters, is a way of thinking and questioning design.
This is of course different from program to program, but the idea with the masters is to push the depth and intellectual level of your work.
I would recommend to read a lot, write, check out blogs and magazines, go to museums and exhibits and maybe even start an internship somewhere.

I have a previous bachelors as well, in the Culinary Arts. In my senior year there, I got into Design and started a second bachelors but didn’t finish it and dropped out after Junior year because I got into a very good Masters program. Just because you start out in the bachelors, it doesn’t mean you have to finish it. I realized after a while that I had obtained the skills I needed to complete my masters.

Mechanical Engineering - one more semester to go!

In the semester that finished this month, I took an ergonomics course, in the faculty of mechanical engeering, which has alerted me to this alternative. Basically, it involves “human factors engineering” and is what I envision the ID graduate courses to be more focused on. This assumption is just based on the fact that it is a more technical and quantitative approach to product design. This course has made me realize that my degree may be more applicable than I had previously thought, even in regards to entering a bachelors ID program, with respect to the electives that were mentioned in a previous post.

At this point, I feel that my biggest challenge is communicating this crossover when applying to whatever program or internship position I apply to. Still, I have my heart set on an undergrad program due to the artistic and visual skips that are taught, as well as the broad application to many “fields” of design. Is it correct to assume that a masters in ID, following engineering, would steer more towards ergonomic/human-factors engineering type design? Typically, what are the goals of these programs?
Perhaps these are questions that should be directed towards specific schools, as I’m sure the answers must vary widely.
Thanks for everyone’s input!!