ID Degree Necessary?

Now I know and understand the value of having a good education. It exposes you lots of new ways of thinking that you wouldn’t otherwise get. As wells as giving you time to improve skills and develop new ones.

I have a mechanical engineering BS and I’ve always liked design but I graduated as the economy was crashing and the company I was lucky enough to intern with hired me. But they are a defense contractor who doesn’t care one bit for the look of something. I left that job as an FEA engineer and went to work for a startup, but that is all engineering and no design.
I want to get into product design with the look and feel of a product.

Is it possible as an ME to do design work or do I have to get a new degree to make this change?

It’s tough, but not impossible, to end up actually sketching out styling for a product with only an ME background. However, a lot of ME’s considering the switch have found working within an ID consultancy, or a company that values ID, as a design engineer to be creatively fulfilling. You still get a say in the styling, though it isn’t your primary role, and you don’t lose out on the technical side.

As a mental exercise, reverse ME and ID in your post. Would an engineering firm hire an industrial designer who was interested in being an ME with no education in it?

Well, technically, I had the word engineer somewhere in my official title sometime in the past. And while I am only 2 semesters from having and engineering degree, there is no chance in hell I will ever, ever, have an engineering degree.

But to answer the OP and yo, no, it is not necessary. You can do ID and engineering without a degree. If you have the right experience, I’d hire you, no matter what a piece of paper says. Not likely, but not impossible either.

Yo, I understand that a degree gives a lot of credibility. I didn’t mean to be insulting to the education that people work hard to get. Obviously a degree from a good school means a lot.

I was just wondering if the degree means as much as the portfolio. I have know a lot of good “engineers” that have drafting degrees, physics degrees, or computer science degrees. They had to work hard to make the switch but they had the passion and that carried them through to a fulfilling job.

Likewise, I know lots of graphic designers that don’t have degrees but are able to do just as good of a job as someone with a fine arts degree.

I’ve been trying to learn industrial design when I’m not working. Reading Core77, reading through Learning Curves multiple times and have been trying to improve my sketching. I have helped out a few friends trying to set up products the want to sell by designing their things. Is that enough or am I completely boxed out without a degree?

Have you considered becoming an artist? I apologize, but I find the wide perception of design being about aesthetics to be one dimensional, there are many other facets of being a designer that I would argue are more important than just being the person who determines something as subjective as look and feel. A good design education from a good school would help you better understand this distinction, but it isn’t required if you’re really motivated to learn and practice.

Your degree and experience as an ME could certainly be a benefit as an ID (in fact you it would benefit you in earning more legitimacy with those “designers are only concerned with aesthetics” types of people).

So to answer your question, I don’t think an ID degree is necessary, but I would question an employer’s understanding of design in soliciting such a position not requiring one.

But that shouldn’t stop you from applying if you have a killer portfolio that highlights your understanding of the entire design process and that demonstrates your ability with design skills on par with or exceeding candidates with ID degrees then I would opt for that over the degree. Being in a hiring position I’ve fielded dozens of applicants with non-ID/ED degrees and to be honest none of them blew me away, though we’ve found some graphic design candidates over the years that were able to make the transition and they excelled.

One suggestion I could make as an alternative would be to look for ME positions at more design-centric companies or agencies, especially one that designs and manufactures products that you are personally passionate about, what are your hobbies? Could be a great way to get a real world design education while being paid an ME salary at the same time, sounds like a win/win to me.

If you end up going that route, just don’t let on that you’re taking the ME position to try and transition to design later, it would probably limit your chances of being hired.

Your portfolio and ability to sell it trumps any educational background.

If you are good, you are good. It really doesn’t matter how you got that good. What matters is that you are.
I would actually be quite impressed with someone with a top notch portfolio and no formal training in ID.

However, be prepared to have to answer tough questions and face suspicion.

Good clarification. It is possible. But improbable.

You are right, I know there is lots of innovative thinking that goes into making a design work. Human factors, user experience, material selection, ergonomics, marketing, consistent styling, rapid prototyping, and I’m sure there’s more.

I guess I’ve been fixated on looking through all the design portfolios and seeing fancey renderings or sketches. When you design boxes all day all you start to wish for are things that are not a box.

Just because it looks good, doesn’t mean it’s possible. See the “Bicycle that makes me want to hurt people” thread as an example.

That’s where you come in.

The closest I’ve ever seen in my very limited experience is a professional sculptor who go into ID. But even he went back to school for an ID degree…there aren’t really many analogous degrees you can get that translate to ID. Sculpture might be the closest, but even that is a very different beast.

An ID degree is more than the degree. It’s the experiences and learning you get while doing it. That is pretty hard to do otherwise and a lot different from something like graphic design. I’m sure engineering would be similar.


I would just start doing design at the place you are at. Say “I designed it to look and feel better”. Do a survey with users to back that up. Often it doesn’t cost more to manufacture a well designed piece than a crappy one, esp if it’s plastic parts. You may just become Chief of Design since it’s a startup.

When you’ve done a few products, there you have your prof ID portfolio.

Beware of the ME > ID title change though. You may appear overpaid to the HR dept who only stare at statistics, and your pay will stagnate.