From Engineering to Industrial Design - advice needed!

Which option would you recommend?

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So I’ve been thinking hard and in desperate need for some advice about what I want to do and have spent a lot of time lately researching a career as an industrial designer and it has really interested me. To give a very brief overview of my background:

  • Loved doing art as a kid (up to aged 18), but gave up on that as I didn’t see a career in it
  • Strong maths skills and ended up doing MEng in Mechanical Engineering (I’m UK based)
  • Have spent a couple of years at an engineering company working as Design Engineer

I’ve recently decided to leave my engineering company and spend a couple of months travelling. I’ll also be moving to London once I return and was intending to buy a house, meaning I’d like to find a decent paying job. However, finding something I love to do comes first and I’m willing to do whatever it takes!

I’ve recently been thinking about what it is that I truly love doing. I’ve found in the brief career I’ve had so far that I’ve always loved designing and sketching, and whenever in my current role as a design engineer I’ve been working on CAD/design work, the time just flies. Therefore, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d like to potentially pursue a career as a design engineer, but not before I reach out for some advice! Obviously the first thing would be to understand what kind of skills I have and experience etc. At present, that would only entail art work from school and some designs from university/work (these more engineering related than pure design). I don’t want my whole engineering career to go to waste so I’d like to use this as a selling point.


  • Would I need to get a degree in ID, maybe masters course to build skills/portfolio? Due to financial reasons (there may be funding options), I would like to avoid this as I already have a masters in engineering, but if it’s needed to get the set of skills/thinking required for people to want to hire me then so be it! Are there options for those in a similar boat to me to get into a career like this?
  • Is there a way I can see what life as an ID would be like before committing fully? Perhaps work as a design engineer at an ID company?
  • I’ll be travelling for a couple of months and bringing a sketch book with me to get some ideas going and create a portfolio. Any other advice for what I can do in this time?
  • I would say my sketching skills are good, but probably not on the same level (particularly rapid sketching) as some ID’ers - any advice on how to improve this?
  • Any recommended reading/research to help me?

I’ve come up with some options on what I think I can do - please feel free to add more!

1 - Move to London, aim to get a job as a Design Engineer at an Industrial Design company. Once in this role, I can see if ID is what I want to do and look to get a role within that company.

2 - Move to London, apply for ID masters programs, develop portfolio in the mean time and eventually secure an ID job.

3 - Move to London, work on portfolio between now and then, apply for ID jobs - but I don’t think this is possibl…

I know this is a long post, but I could really appreciate the advice. I’m positive there must be other engineer turned designers out there so how have you guys managed it? Thank you all!

1- Get a job as a Design Engineer at an ID company or a company that has an ID department or is heavy into new product development even if they source it out. Either way you will be exposed to what ID is. If you find it absolutely better than engineering, then make the switch.
2-ID masters are usually not the same as a core ID education.
3- I’m assuming a new design grad would have a much better portfolio than a professional engineer (only an educated assumption). If your portfolio is engineering heavy they might hire you as a Design Engineer anyway.

Stay in Engineering but look for a job in a company that does new product design & development. I know of 2-3 mechanical engineers that worked for different Design Consultancies but after a couple of years switched to mechanical engineers at large firms that developed their own products. The main reason…salary.

Thank you for the advice!

It seems that a role as a design engineer would be the best bet. For most roles as design engineers, a portfolio isn’t required. From you experience at ID companies, is this something they’d like to see? For example, projects with heavy design emphasis? Most of my current work is confidential so very difficult to share and would rely on other minor projects/university stuff. You’d also be correct to assume a design grad would have a better portfolio as mine would be starting now and in my spare time plus only engineering projects.

Can you explain the key differences between a bachelors/masters? I really want to avoid having to spend another 3 years studying as this isn’t financially feasible.

For me salary isn’t key, I have to be involved in the more creative side. If I had it my own way, I’d be sketching/modelling in CAD all day long, but need to realise the most practical approach for achieving that.

Hi Samy,

I’ve been a lurker at Core77 for a while, but decided to finally make a login so I could respond to your post. A few years ago, I found myself in your position and I had the exact same questions. I got my BS in Aero/Mechanical Engineering in 2008 and spent a few years working as an engineer after graduation. The work I was doing was proprietary and more technical/theoretical and I started taking classes for a Masters in ME, but quickly decided that wasn’t for me. Around that time, I had the opportunity to work in a position that interfaced with industrial designers, and saw what they did for the first time. I immediately decided that is where I wanted to take my career, so I did some research, made a small portfolio of mock projects to apply with, and applied to graduate schools with 2 and 3 year Masters level programs in ID. I got into one of them, and spent 2 years as a full time grad student. I was able to get a fellowship position working in a research lab on campus in exchange for tuition. I learned a ton and gained a lot of skills. I am now working again as a mechanical engineer at a small engineering services firm in Portland, OR. The firm works with a wide variety of clients, and I’ve had a couple chances to do some light ID work for a few projects. But overall, the majority of my projects are mechanical engineering. With all that out of the way, I can offer some comments on your questions from my personal experience.

Masters degrees are typically only 2 years (at least here in the US), with some programs requiring an initial year of “fundamentals” education. A Bachelors is a 4 year degree, and is focused on the fundamentals of art, art history, developing drawing/design skills in traditional media and then developing software skills to get a design job when you leave school. Masters level courses are more theory and process oriented than bachelors programs. You learn/practice research techniques and formulate your particular brand of design thinking. With only 2 years, there is no time for working on sketching, model building, software skills, design history, or any of the “fundamentals” that Bachelors students study.

In retrospect, I wish I had been required to do an initial year of fundamentals. After graduation, I found myself at a distinct disadvantage compared to graduating Bachelors students. I did not spend enough time during grad school developing my design art skills (sketching, markers, photoshop). There is just only so much time in a day, and while I grew my skills tremendously and developed experience in a lot of other areas, my art/ideation skills were just not good enough to get a true Industrial Design job.

Even with that, however, I’m not sure it would have helped. The truth is that ID jobs are scarce, and even a lot of qualified undergraduates don’t get a job in ID right out of school. Business culture in most companies has evolved so that designers and engineers are distinct departments, and are often pitted against each other with regard to goals and priorities on projects. So while you might think an industrial designer with an engineering background sounds like an awesome combination of skills (and it is!), many companies don’t see it that way and would rather just hire a well qualified ID or ME to fit into their ID or ME departments.

With regards to finding an engineering job at an ID firm, this too can be challenging. I have spent countless hours looking through job postings and applying to jobs of this nature. I have found that most ID firms are primarily looking for highly experienced engineers, typically with a lot of injection molding experience and mechanism design. Smaller firms, usually with only a few MEs on staff, need engineers who can realize anything their designers come up with, and then also coordinate the manufacture and assembly of the product. This experience requires significant time to acquire, so don’t be discouraged if you look at job postings and don’t quite have enough experience. Apply anyways, and they’ll hopefully have a need for someone to support these “super-engineers” and eventually become one.

My number one piece of advice would be: Be patient. This is really hard, and is something I have not yet mastered myself. The good news is that you’ve figured out you want to do, which is more than most people can say.

Since you said that additional schooling is not financially feasible, I think you’re on the right track with your approach of looking for ME jobs at design firms. If you can’t seem to land a job at one of those firms right away, look for a job that will get you the experience needed, i.e. consumer products manufacturers with plastics design, groups at auto manufacturers that do surfacing work, general ME firms where you’ll get to work on a variety of projects.

Meanwhile, do a lot of self study. Buy books on ID sketching, pens/markers, and practice daily (Scott Robertson books, Design Sketching/Learning Curves, and Sketching/Sketching the Basics are a good place to start) . Do online tutorials and learn how to render and present your sketches with Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator/InDesign. Invest in tools (wood/metal working, 3D printer, CNC router, electronics (arduino, raspberry pi, etc)), or become a member at a makerspace, and learn how to prototype your designs. Also just buy/read whatever books/websites you are interested in related to industrial design. Don’t get discouraged if progress is slow, learning things takes time! These are all things that you’d have to do if you went back to school for ID anyway!

If you spend enough time learning and working, at some point down the road, you’ll have enough skills/experience to get that “super-engineer” job at an ID firm. Or maybe you’ll go out on your own and start your own firm! At least this is what I keep telling myself about my own career…

Well, I hope that wasn’t too long and didn’t come off preachy. I am in no way an authoritative expert on anything, but just wanted to offer some anecdotes from my experience since our backgrounds sounded so similar. Feel free to PM me if you have any specific questions. I hope this helps you in some way on your journey, good luck!

Wow thank you for your time and effort in that reply, some really great advice there!

I get the feeling that a masters in ID would not really aid me with the one thing that is needed to secure a job - the portfolio. Perhaps better concentrated work in my free time would both be better as well as financially attainable. From my research, it seems that UK-based masters are only a year, which when you really think about it, probably isn’t enough time to develop a competitive portfolio. For now, I’m ruling that option out.

I’ve only briefly looked into engineering jobs in ID and the points you raise about segregation between IDers and engineers is interesting, if not slightly demotivating as I’d hope for a close relationship so a potential transition would be feasible. However, I’m guessing this isn’t the case for every company and I may strike lucky! I do appear fortunate with my current role that we turn around custom and sometimes very complex designs from initial ideas to parts shipped to customers. There is also a lot of injection moulding and some basic electrical aspect which may give me some advantage if I can sell it well!

I fully understand that patience is key, and with being off travelling soon, hopefully I can use that time well to enhance skills (planning on taking a sketch book and seeing if there are any design comps I can have a go at) and also make contacts with recruiters so that on my return, I’ll have something sorted. I do have some funds to invest in material you’ve listed so will have a look. One question, how do you suppose going about practising CAD skills (i.e. SolidWorks) when licensing is so expensive? I’m sure there are slightly more illegal ways around this, but I’m not willing to do that or afford several thousand pounds to afford it…

Once again, thank you for your response, exactly the kind of things I need right now. Perhaps you can share more on if you now would like to still become an IDer, or aiming to be the ‘super-engineer’?

No problem, I’m glad I could share my experience!

I think you’re totally right about the portfolio. While there is definitely something to be said for learning from seasoned professors, it is not the only way to learn. It sounds like you’ve got enough self-motivation and discipline to be successful learning the majority of ID skills on your own. There’s always the option down the road of taking single courses at a university to supplement your self-learning.

I’m sorry for painting such a bleak picture of segregation between ID and ME. You’re right again… not all companies follow the strict “silos” model. There are definitely employers out there that value both ME and ID skills in the same individual. I just wanted to bring up the subject, because it is something that I’ve run into in my job search. It sounds like you’re on the right track, though!

Practicing CAD skills is tricky. One route could be to try and find freelance work that would help pay for, at least partially, the cost of a Solidworks license. If you just want to practice CAD modeling for personal projects, there are a few systems out there that are free of charge:

  • Onshape is an in-browser parametric modeling tool. It was started by some former Solidworks software engineers, and thus has a very familiar feel to it if you’re used to SW. However, it runs right in your web browser, and is free to get basic account with limited storage. This is what I use for designing for my 3d printer at home. Check it out:

  • Fusion 360 is another one that is free if you’re a hobbyist or small business. It is a bit different than a typical parametric modeling software, but it also does some rendering and has a CAM package for running CNC equipment. Definitely worth checking out: Fusion 360 | 3D CAD, CAM, CAE, & PCB Cloud-Based Software | Autodesk

  • Blendr is a free, open-source modeling program that can also do rendering and animation. It is a completely different modeling workflow, but interesting and worth checking out:

And to your final question, on being an IDer vs. “super-engineer”: I’m not quite sure yet! :smiley: My current position provides a good variety of engineering work, and I do get to use my ID skills from time to time. I’m also working on improving my sketching and rendering skills at home, but that is also just for enjoyment because I like to draw. So, for now, I’m pretty content!

Great stuff once again. If there are others lurking on this post and feel like they have had similar experiences, it would be great to hear. Hopefully this can be a great source of information not only for myself, but others in a similar situation who may be researching the topic.

Thanks for the tips on different CAD programs. I’m aware and have signed up for Onshape which does look very similar to SolidWorks. I think I may just use the rest of my time at my current company to maximise the use of an available SolidWorks license and work on surfacing skills particularly as I’ve never really done this outside a brief university project.

Happy to head you’ve got a position where you can do both and good luck for the future!

As for me, I’m going to focus on searching for a good design engineer job with plenty of creativity while working on my design skills in my free time. Let’s see what ID roles are like before taking the plunge!


Another engineer that went sort of, kind of, ID.

A few quick comments as I switch between projects.

This is a thought that has crossed my mind as far as looking for a job. I have been considering looking at start-ups, incubators, makerspaces and other places that in that vein. Those places they maybe more flexible in finding a jack of all trades. So an engineer that can do reasonable sketches, that wants to help with designing the product/device inside and out maybe a plus, and you may not get pigeon holed. Also they may not post the job as ID but in fact that is (part of) what they are looking for.

  1. I considered going to Grad school for ID, but (back in that day), the pay off was not that guaranteed, so I went undergrad ID (what would be my second BS degree). From what I can tell ID firms look at your skills more than your schooling.

Building a good portfolio can be done ‘anywhere’, in school is not a requirement. You just have to be able to build a good portfolio. If you go through the C77 Discussions you’ll see posts from folks that when they got home would sketch of hours. They looked for the time and put the time in. They did what moczys did, found inspiration and resources all over the place. Also lots of folks post their portfolios here for review, do that.

Good luck.

Thank you very much for your input!

You make a great point about opportunities involving both ID and engineering. I guess that may be what’ll interest me more than a pure ID role for two reasons: I’ll maintain my engineering side and I can slowly develop my creative side because, after all, I have no idea of I’ll be good at ID until I try it.

Could share what you currently do now? Are you engineering/ID or a bit of both? And why have you gone down the route you have done? It’s always interesting seeing what life decisions people have made and why, whether it was forced through no other option or they worked really hard to achieve what they wanted to!

Also, following this discussion, I’ve gone ahead and bought some books on drawing and feel very motivated! I always loved to draw as a kid and feel I am very good at it, was just put off when it came to making big decisions such as degree and career path hence went into engineering. Appreciate the advice everyone! It’s looking like a long, but ultimately worthwhile road.

Here’s another way of thinking about it. What companies/brands would you like to work for? What products would you like to be designing? It might be just as rewarding to engineer awesome products. In 10 or 20 years you may transition into overseeing & guiding the development and execution of new products so at that point the company/product will matter more.

Hey Samy,

I am essentially on the same path right now, so it’s great to hear from someone else in the same situation. I decided I wanted to work in ID pretty soon after graduating with my MEng in July, it’s was on the back burner while I was travelling for a few months- although I did try to sketch everyday. Since I got back i’ve been able work full time on studying product design and developing a portfolio; living rent free with the parents does come in handy!

So I guess I have a few tips from my progression thus far- by no means extensive, but may be useful to you:



  • Spencer Nugent
  • Product Tank

Other Resources

  • Has a ton of tutorial videos- Including a really useful course on Product design sketching
  • Blender (freeware)- 3D modelling and rendering tool
  • 11 lessons- Design Council

So thats a basic list of a few things that have helped me along that way. I’m currently in the process of developing a website and as of today starting some freelance work! In response to your original question, I’m in the same boat and I’m not sure. I currently live just outside of London, but I’m planning on moving to Bristol in July- so hopefully I’ll have it figured out by then!

Good luck with your Journey- and when you make it down to London let me know and we can have a beer and discuss making it as designers!