Is ID right for me? And other questions.

Hi There. First post. Might be a long one, so bear with me :slight_smile:

I’m a Mechanical Engineer and have been working as a “product development engineer” for the last 7 years in Wisconsin. To start with, I worked at a design firm, doing part design for (primarily) consumer electronics. I would take what the ID guys gave me, and try to make it work…toolability, robustness, FEA, etc while interfacing with electrical engineers and of course, the ID guys. I then moved on to the company I’m at now, designing plastic parts (clips, fasteners, mounts, etc) for the automotive, solar, heavy truck, etc industries. My wife and I have decided to relocate to San Francisco (she got a great job) and will be moving out there this summer.

I have never really loved mechanical engineering, even when I was in school. It has never really fit me right. I enjoyed my first job more than I enjoy my current job, but I still didn’t love it. I currently am bored, uninspired, and frustrated by my current work.

I am discovering that I’m far more interested in the overall aesthetic and function of a product than the inner workings of it. When I look at a consumer device, I find myself thinking about the choices the designers made to come up with the shape, the function, the materials, etc. I don’t find myself wondering how the camera module attaches to the body or how the spring mechanism of the keyboard is made (to give two stupid examples). I’ll occasionally find myself drawing up some random product designs I have been thinking about in Solidworks…cameras, phone concepts, speakers, etc, etc.

Because of this, I have started thinking about switching to ID. I think it fits me better as a person, and more aligns with the things I value.

So, a couple questions.

  1. Does ID seem like a reasonable path for me, based on what I’ve said?
    2 .If I were to go into ID, I’d have to go back to school. Having a BS in Mechanical Engineering, would it make sense to go get another Bachelors, but in ID? What are my other options?
  2. Is there any practical advantage to me having a degree in both ME and ID? Is that a desirable combination to employers? Or a detriment?
  3. My wife and I are not wealthy by any means, and me going back to school (especially after moving to SF) is going to be difficult financially. With that in mind, what schools would be recommended? I don’t hear much about the ID program at SFSU (but that would make the most sense for me, location wise and financially).

More questions I’m sure, but that’s the basics of it. I would greatly appreciate any help any of you can give!


I think it could definitely be a fit. An in between option would perhaps be being a ME at a more strategic design firm like frog where the MEs are often time doing more high level thinking collaboratively with the design team. When the rubber hits the road you would still be deep in ME stuff, but a lot of times the engagements are more high level and front end. It is possible to eventually transition into an interaction designer in such a roll, or even a director. One of the ID directors at frog at the time (since left) had an ME background.

If you really want to go hardcore ID though, yes, going back to school is going to be the most reliable path. With an ME degree and work experience in a design firm you should be able to do the degrees in less than 3 years (the school will probably try to say 3-3.5, but realistically I would think 2.5 if you push on them). SFSU isn’t bad, and I think if you know what you want out of the experience you will be fine. Maybe you can even work part time as an ME at a firm during?

This might be a controversial thing to say here, but I am not even sure you would necessarily have to finish your ID degree.
What you need is a good design foundation but given the fact that you are a little bit older than the typical student and have relevant experience, I am not sure you would need an ID degree to land a good ID position.
Especially since you already have a college degree. So start the bachelor’s yes, but maybe drop out if you feel ready.

In my opinion, what you would need is a good portfolio, which can absolutely be compiled in less than 3 years if you are diligent about your work and plan for an early departure from the program.
I dropped out of my ID bachelors a year shy of graduating because I had a previous degree and with all due respect to the program, I didn’t feel like I would have gotten a lot out of the final year after looking at the syllabus.

The fact that you have such a strong engineering background, coupled with a passion for design, makes you a super interesting candidate.
However, I would make sure that later on you make crystal clear that you do not want to be pushed into a engineering role but want to be a full-on industrial designer.
Good, keen design engineers are hard to come by and I can totally see employers trying to nudge you away from ID. This is why your design portfolio should have a very strong design pov and you might have to resist the temptation to push your engineering skill too hard, which would finding a job probably quite a bit easier.

I don’t think that is controversial at all. What matters is what you can do, not a piece paper that purports what you can do. But you actually have to be able to show you have the ability.

On that note, I’ve known a few very good designers who never completed their degrees, but they are definitely the exception to the rule.

Similar to what bepster said…I don’t think school & another degree is a must-have, we have hybrid guys on our team…some are ID guys who got heavy into CAD…some are MEs who love and have a passion & talent for ID. Sometimes it’s a perfect combination for our smaller projects, where budgets can be tight and we need the widget to be both appropriate/sexy and it has to work.

I agree, instead of obtaining another degree you can focus on developing a small portfolio targeted towards ID, using some of your past work and current ideas. See if you can create some interesting sketches showing you can also handle the creative process to some extent. Then with your current degree and with a clear story of what you want and some good ideas and abilities regarding design, you could definitely land an ID job.

I know several people who have shifted from ME to ID and it works nicely. These people can be a very valuable addition for example in small studios where products have to be both conceptualized and prepared for manufacturing, the collaboration is very fruitful and they are not that separate of a discipline as you describe in my experience.

I’m encouraged by all of your feedback! Thanks so much, I really appreciate it.

Thanks for the feedback! frog is an interesting idea and I like the ability to do both (ME and ID), although I think I’d want to lean more heavily to the ID side. I also like the idea of being more involved up front with the creative aspects of product design.

I figured that getting a second bachelor’s wouldn’t take more than 2 years, due to the lack of general ed stuff that I’d have to take. I guess I should look into it more.

Interesting idea. I definitely feel like I’m lacking the foundation for the skills an ID has, so starting a program could help with that. Ultimately I feel like I’d want to be as best prepared as I can be for a position in ID, but I suppose I could feel that out when in school.

I’d be okay with still doing some engineering, but I really don’t think it’s ultimately what I want.

Yeah, I can see that being something that I could do…a bit of both, but hopefully with an emphasis on ID. Good to hear that a combination of the two disciplines can be valuable.

I appreciate what you’re saying, but I really don’t feel that I have the skills necessary at this point to put together a portfolio that would be worth anything. While I can sketch a little, I’m not great at it by any means, and I don’t have the fundamental understanding of good aesthetic product design. I know it when I see it, and I can capture bits of it, but I don’t think that’s enough.

The people that you know that have shifted form ME to ID…did they go back to school or just morph into it?

I can see how they wouldn’t be as separate as I described, but it definitely seem like there are different skill sets, some of which overlap.

Following up a little bit…

After having talked to several people, and done a bit of research, I’m 85-90% in for switching to ID.

I’m wondering if you all have an opinion as to two school options I might have: San Jose State and San Francisco State. Which do you like and why?


I believe the San Jose State program has been around for much longer, with a higher level of design education, than SFSU.