Engineering vs. ID

Hi, I’m looking for some answers to just a simple question. How does engineering and industrial design differ from one another, as a degree, as for the work involved? I’m curious about both careers, but I haven’t been able to choose which to go to school for. Thank you so much for your help and time! I would love to talk to any engineers or ID’ers that can give me insight on this.

A designer creates the body of the Ferrari, the shape of the seats, the feel of the shifter knob, the layout of the instrument cluster. The engineer figures out how thick the metal has to be, where the bolts and scews go, how to make the windows roll up, the mechanisms for the suspension, etc.

As an electrical engineer myself, I design the internal functionality of systems. I need to be able to understand the physical properties of electrical components in order to successfully get the desire output of a given input. Take the Ipod for example; the engineer will be responsible of choosing the right electronics to process the signal (audio), and furthermore, the engineer will probably will also design the software architecture that will get that signal from the hardware all the way to the user. The designer, from what I understand, is more concern with usability of the product. The designer’s goal is to make the product more user friendly and ergonomic.

I like the Ipod example because it has been a very successful product, both, engineering and design wise.

Engineers and Industrial Designers work hand in hand because one parties’ decisions affect the work of the other. I can design a system that gives me a nearly perfect output (let’s say, the best quality of music), but it might take me a bunch of electrical components, and the end product could turn out to be completely useless (too big, too complex, etc…).

My advice, if you like art and you like how things look and feel, pursue an industrial design degree, but also take some electives in engineering so you can expand your knowledge; and vice versa, if you are more interested in how things work internally, go the engineering route but take id courses so you can also gain knowledge on the principles of economic, social, and ecological sustainability.

An emerging field that needs strong design and engineering skills is medical electronic devices. The success of these products depends on how reliable (engineering) and practical (design) they can be.

The other replies are right on.

As a mechanical engineer and an industrial design student I would recommend looking at engineering and industrial design curriculums to see the difference. Just go to a university’s web site and do some searching for the classes engineering students take and do the same for industrial design. A few schools with both programs are Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Lawrence Tech. Take a look at some art and design school ID curriculums like College for Creative Studies (Detroit), Art Center College of Design, Rhode Island School of Design and Savanah College of Art and Design too. They tend to be more art related than the tech schools. Then ask yourself what classes you truly enjoy – math and physics or art and design.

Also remember there is the ability for overlap in design. There are several people on here who I believe are formally trained in engineering but doing design. Even as a designer depending on your role you may still be responsible for a good understanding of the engineering details in order to execute on your design intent. If you work in a situation where an engineer wants to come in and rebuild your entire design because you haven’t factored in things like manufacturing and tooling constraints, you lose power as a designer - but when you can play both cards, your power in the process increases significantly.

Thank you for your great responses! My schooling depends on a few factors, staying in FL and going to a state university for engineering, or be in FL and take ID courses from AAU, which sounds good to me. I wish I could find a school in FL that teaches ID, non - distant learning. I’d like to move to San Fransisco where AAU is, but I don’t feel I can move at this time financially.

Depending on your situation and the way you learn, distance learning can be a good option for some people. Also consider that as “good design” rarely happens in a vaccuum (by someone isolated from others) a design education may have similiar problems. I remember critiques as being crucial as well as spending time working hands on with things in a shop environment and learning from fellow students experiences. These are some of the things you will have to weigh in your decision.

Cyberdemon ----> You hit the nail on the head, though there are several good responses above. I have formal education in both, and as a result may have a slightly skewed bias, even though my first love is art and design… the engineering degree (and graphic design degree before that) were icing on the cake.

I feel it is a designer’s responsibility to understand the requirements and constraints imposed on others in the design and manufacturing process. Having a greater awareness of what drives other team-members and project stakeholders will allow you to both become a better designer and develop more effective concepts. While it would be nice to design without boundaries, the reality is that everything you create must somehow be manufactured. I don’t feel you should be limited by manufacturing tolerances or tooling constraints, but understanding them is imperative, and when considered during concept generation, will leading to an improved workflow and more powerful (and cost-effective) product.

Carton ----> Totally agree… design is best served by groups and being around other creative thinkers. When you hit that lull in mid-afternoon studio, you can walk around looking at classmates work, or swing by the computer lab and design library for inspiration. When you land on a final idea, take it to the shop and build models 'til the wee hours of the morning. The resources offered by a major accredited university are unparalleled and should not be overlooked when choosing schools.

Khumbu77 ----> don’t forget Auburn and NC State, both have accredited ID cirriculums and very well-respected engineering programs. NC State’s College of Design is over 60 years old, and is one of the few to offer a diverse range of degrees, including an AIA-accredited architecture program. Clemson also has a budding design school (with architecture) to compliment their engineering programs.

I’m currently a Computer Engineering student, but with a great interest in design. I’m looking at getting my masters in Industrial Design from Georgia Tech because they offer a program that caters to people who have had no formal design education like engineers and computer science majors.

I think the difference between ID and Engineering is the level of interaction between each stage of a product development. As an Industrial Designer you will have to concern the ergonomic, market trend…etc into your design to make it functional, ergonomic…etc. A lot of awareness have to be learn. Personally I think it is more interesting in terms of career path.

There is a distinct line between design and engineering as far as domain of work is considered.

‘Design is to aesthetics and Engineering is to detail’ that is the formula interpreted by most of us. But thats not the right way to put it. Design really has the blend of engineering in it. No design is complete without the engineering. So being a designer, you need to have some inputs in engineering as well. And thats why I see better products by designers who have engineering qualifications already.

One difference between Engineering and Industrial Design is that there are many Engineering Disciplines* serving the unique, and unique Industrial Design discipline serving the many (industries).
I do see overlap between the Engineering and Industrial Design professions, but it is not a total overlap. Sometimes it helps to add a third element to help dimensionalize differences and similarities. But focusing on the similarities, rather than the differences, always delivers the most success.
*Aerospace Engineering Agricultural Engineering Architectural Engineering Bioengineering/Biomedical Engineering Ceramic Engineering Chemical Engineering Civil Engineering Computer Engineering Electrical Engineering Environmental Engineering Fire Protection Engineering Industrial Engineering Manufacturing Engineering Mechanical Engineering Metallurgy and Materials Engineering Mineral and Mining Engineering Nuclear Engineering Ocean Engineering Transportation Engineering

I agree, there is some overlap, but generally speaking… I haven’t met or worked with an engineer yet (and there’s been plenty in the past twelve years) that would amount to much of an Industrial Designer (hell, some ID’ers are that way!). Most couldn’t design their way out of a paperbag. Not that engineers are not capable folks… most are highly intelligent, generate innovation almost daily, and can be tremendous assets when brainstorming. However, Industrial Design REALLY is a DIFFERENT WAY OF THINKING about things…

On the other hand, I have worked closely with several ID’ers that are (or could also be) great engineers. It (engineering) really is an understanding of the curriculum more than anything, and possessing the analytical prowess. I think it truly boils down to a left-brain/right-brain argument, and there just aren’t many people in the world that excel at both… Each has it’s place and while there may be some crossover or overlap, they are more compliments than anything else.

However, it’s easy to do two things… one of which I read regularly on this site and seem to hear quite often (unfortunately), the other is a simple analogy.

(1) It’s very easy to look at a fine work of art, perhaps a Renoir or Manet, and say “Hey, that’s nice.” It’s an entirely different thing to look at it and appreciate the technique, then be able to describe how and why it is successful and/or replicate it down to the brush stroke. This is one of the very reasons I gave up on graphic design. Now-a-days, any yahoo with photoshop and a clip-art library thinks they’re a graphic or web designer, while those of us that attended college in the days of moveable type actually understand the composition of the page and how to appropriately use that type and a letterpress to impart emotion. It was a sought-after skill, nay… an art-form, but I digress.

(2) I really think it does the profession a disservice when describing an Industrial Designer as “making things pretty,” more “aesthetically pleasing,” or some other intangible and uneducated description. Design in general is problem solving, and while the aesthetics of a product are important, in the end your ultimate goal is to improve the interaction of people with those products, somehow making a users life and overall experience better. Much like architecture is the study of relationships between people and their built environments, ID is the study of the relationship between people and products. This includes, but is not limited to aesthetics, functionality, ergonomics, materials, manufacturability, cost, and population accessibility among other things. I hear the marketing folks spout off buzz words in every meeting, but to an ID’er, ergonomics approaches the study of anthropometrics and is more than a catch phrase found on product packaging. It actually involves research and empirical data… but you guys already knew that.


Off my soapbox now…

Thank you all for posting. I feel firm knowing that I’d be good as a designer. I agree that it couldn’t hurt to study both, to have an overall more well rounded idea of how everything works.