Mechanical Engineer to ID (yes, another one)

Hi,

I’m a mechanical engineer from India (graduated from the University of Michigan in December) and I’m looking to transition to product design/development. I was hoping for inputs regarding the transition. I DID use the search feature and go through a number of threads on this forum but the responses were quite varied (and in the end not entirely helpful to me) since they ranged from the equivalent of “you need to do another undergraduate degree in design” to “it can’t happen easily”. The one thread that was informative was this one Engineering to ID, how do I do it? but then again, it didn’t really say much about what one could do as it sort of digressed into a discussion about why people opt for engineering when they want to do design.

For my background, I made the mistake that most people mentioned in the “engineer to design” threads, and that was assuming that engineering meant the design/making of new products. I realized the mistake quite late (middle of my junior year) and now am looking to change the situation. One big problem being, I don’t have much of a portfolio since the only design experience I have is from a couple of internships and a couple of elective classes (Michigan has a rather rigid engineering program and an art department that seems to hate ID).

I decided to try my luck and applied for a few of master’s programs in product design/development in the US (Northwestern, Carnegie Mellon, Upenn) and UK (Brunel, Loughborough, Glasgow) and also the Industrial Design Introduction course at UMEA (I figured this would also be a good transition to design). I got rejected by the programs in the US (my GPA isn’t stellar and neither is my portfolio so had no chance to start off with) and I’m yet to hear from the others but I don’t know how good a chance I have.

I’m also looking at the Summer Program in Product Design at NABA, Milan and I wanted to know if anyone here has attended it in the past or knows anything about it? I thought this might be a way to start the transition.

Overall, I’m kind of lost and I’m not sure if what I’m doing is right or if I’m headed in the right direction. All I know is that I can’t believe I did an engineering degree when I should have been in design from the get go and now I know that design is what I want to end up doing. I am looking at multiple possibilities from applying for masters (which I’ve already done) to doing a second undergraduate degree (if I can somehow manage the funds for it).

Sorry for the long post and what is probably a rehash of previous similar threads. I just felt like my doubts weren’t being answered in those threads so I posted a new one. Any inputs are welcome. Thanks

I’m glad you read the other posts and it seems like you’ve done a good amount of homework. You also have an engineering degree from one of the best schools in the United States, things could be worse. As the quote above seems to read pretty clearly to me, the transition from ME to ID is not an easy one, if you really want to do it, you will most likely NEED to get a second bachelors degree, this is the best ways to learn the fundamental skills you will need and get you thinking like a designer and probably undo some of the engineer thinking you most likely have going on now. There is also the possibility as working as an ME at an ID consultancy as a way to learn and build your portfolio and experience that may help you transfer into an ID role (probably not very likely) or apply to a grad school for ID. I would highly recommend the second bachelor option of you really want to become a well rounded ID.

best of luck

I’m glad you read the other posts and it seems like you’ve done a good amount of homework. You also have an engineering degree from one of the best schools in the United States, things could be worse. As the quote above seems to read pretty clearly to me, the transition from ME to ID is not an easy one, if you really want to do it, you will most likely NEED to get a second bachelors degree, this is the best ways to learn the fundamental skills you will need and get you thinking like a designer and probably undo some of the engineer thinking you most likely have going on now. There is also the possibility as working as an ME at an ID consultancy as a way to learn and build your portfolio and experience that may help you transfer into an ID role (probably not very likely) or apply to a grad school for ID. I would highly recommend the second bachelor option of you really want to become a well rounded ID.

best of luck

Thanks for the response. I understand that the transition won’t be easy and I have a long journey ahead. However, from a purely financial stand point, I’m trying to see if I can avoid having to spend money on another 4 year undergraduate degree since I’ve already got plenty of loans to pay off. Right now, the 2nd undergraduate degree is my last option for two reasons, the first being financial as mentioned earlier and the second being parents who are completely against the idea of doing another bachelor’s degree.

So, what I would like to know is this, besides the second bachelor option, what other options do I have? Right now from what you’ve said and from what I’m looking at, the following seem like possibilities.

  1. Work as an ME in an ID consultancy, and build up on experience before transferring to an ID role or going to grad school.

  2. Apply for an MSc program in Product Design (like IPD at UPenn or Brunel) and use that to transition

  3. Apply for a one year transition program (like the IDI program at UMEA – http://www.dh.umu.se/default.asp?ML=10418) – and then look at getting a job that is ID related or apply for grad school.

I’ve actually done two and three and am waiting to hear back from some of these places. As for looking for work in ID, it isn’t extremely big in India as yet and I would appreciate any suggestions that people have for ID companies in India or elsewhere that would be willing to take on an ME grad.

I’d appreciate any advice on any other options that people could suggest. In particular, I would like to know what others, in a situation such as mine, did. How did you transition from engineering to design?

Thanks in advance for the responses

Good yet inexpensive school options are going to be hard to find. If you can’t afford international tuition rates anymore, loans are your only option.

Not having any work experience is probably one reason you weren’t admitted to any Master’s programs. so I’d suggest working as an engineer in an ID firm as the best place to start. Next post your portfolio as-is and get feedback. There are lots of self guided sketching lessons online and some very good rendering tutorials you can buy. After a year of showing your dedication and marked improvement in fundamental skills, you will have a much easier time gaining admission to a reputable ID program like you mentioned.

best of luck however you choose to proceed.

  1. Apply for a one year transition program (like the IDI program at UMEA – > http://www.dh.umu.se/default.asp?ML=10418> ) – and then look at getting a job that is ID related or apply for grad school.

I am currently a grad student at Konstfack in Stockholm/ Sweden and have several classmates that did the crash-course year in Umea.
It is a pretty awesome school if your interest is rather “straight up” ID.
Also, you can’t beat free tuition.

If you do not get in, I would advise to maybe talk to somebody in the jury and ask what you would have to do to make the cut next year.
As I understand it is perfect for your goals.
However, it might not be enough to just do that one year and you would have to connect it to a masters, which I guess would also put you up to 3 years.

For what it’s worth to you, here is my two cents:

I did an undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering and worked for two-and-a-half years. It taught me a lot about the difference between academia and real life. In that time, I also saved my paychecks, because I knew that I wasn’t going to stick around.

When I decided to go back to school, I also didn’t have a portfolio. So I did a second undergraduate degree in ID which took an additional three years. Now that i am finished, I will be able to start my masters. The extra time spent in a second undergraduate degree really allowed me to think about my education in a completely different way than I did the first time around. I really took charge of what I was learning and questioned everything I was being taught. The downside (if you want to call it that), is that I’m now 29, and just starting my Masters.

My advice to you is to take a closer look at what your interest in design really is. Do you often think up new ideas? Do you like to draw/model? Do you like working with your hands? Do you sometimes take oblique or abstract approaches to problem solving? If the answer is yes, then go work or get yourself into a master’s program somewhere. If the answer is no, then perhaps you should enroll in some summer classes in ID to get your feet wet, start your portfolio, and really start to see design from the other side of the fence.

I’m sorry if any of this advice is redundant, I briefly scanned the other answers. I know that money is an issue, so that might be a good argument for getting a job as soon as you can to stabilize yourself financially. Best of luck to you. Don’t think of your Engineering degree as a mistake, your only mistake would be to not use it to your advantage.

Thanks for the advice. I have been looking around at ID firms here in India (there are barely a handful) and some abroad as well. Will definitely be applying to them soon.

As for my portfolio, this is where I have suffered because of my ME background. I haven’t had an opportunity to develop a good portfolio because I was so tied up doing technical courses. I’ve spent the last few months working on my sketching skills and am looking for some good tutorials on rendering as well. I’m sure in a few months time I’ll have a portfolio that is reasonable enough to post on here for some feedback.

Thanks for the advice.

I would love the opportunity to use the one year IDI program at Umea. The fact that it is free and will give me an opportunity to transition to a masters makes sense for me both financially and in terms of what I will learn. I do plan on doing a master’s after this and it should make things a lot more affordable as well. Fingers crossed, hoping I get in this time round.

Thanks for the advice (it wasn’t redundant, extremely helpful actually). I do realize that my engineering degree isn’t a mistake as it gives me a good technical base for a career path in design. As for those questions regarding my interest in design, it is a unanimous yes to all of those questions except for model making which I don’t have much of an experience with so I don’t know if I like it or not.

I am also taking a summer class “Intro to Product Design” at NABA , Milan to get a glimpse of what to expect before I pursue work or a masters in the field (I have applied for these as well).

Doing a second undergraduate degree however is completely out of the question in my case at this point. After a discussion with my parents (who would be funding part of the amount with the rest in loans), it isn’t feasible for me financially to have to go through another undergraduate degree and then move onto a masters. So I will probably be looking to go for a Masters right away (depending on whether or not I get admitted) otherwise will look at working a couple of years, clearing past loans and then seeing where I can go from there.

I think the IDI at UMEA sounds great.

If it were me I too would advise the second undergrad degree especially if your alternatives are to hop on over to the UK. This is only my opinion but I see the masters courses as a bit of a cash cow for the university running the course. The reason I say this is purely the level at which the students tend to come out at - not particulary great. The courses seem to be filled with many overseas students, alot of chinese who unfortunately have a poor levels of verbal communication skills so you could have trouble developing off your peers. In addition if i’m completely honest, I learn’t the most whilst on placement on my year out and from my friends. On a masters you’ll be missing out on the chance on a year long placement and I can say doing ID from scratch If I had done it in 2 years I would of come out terrible with little chance of employment. Ontop of that from those courses you have mentioned in the UK almost always the undergrads work are leaps and bounds better than the masters for the above reasons. I would also discount Glasgow straight away, not a great rep and based on the students undergrad work poor skill levels.

If it were me I would look at building a portfolio first and attack the situation from the following approach.

  1. Find some design competition briefs and set yourself a month to complete them

  2. Read up IDEO’s research methodolgies and implement them to the design breifs. (their method cards are a fantastic resource)

  3. Log onto ID sketching.com and or purchase a few sketch books. I personally recommend Setching by koos eissen maybe Dickpowels but it is a bit out of date now

  4. Sketch everyday but don’t try cars straight away. Do the pages of primitives lines penmanship etc… warning : this will take you years of practice to master

  5. Get yourself some blue foam and a hot knife and start thrashing out some models for said breif

  6. Learn a CAD package if you don’t nkow one already

Hope that helps

I think it is important here to note that not all Masters courses are like this, i.e. “cash cows”.
The great benefit from doing a Maters is that you will be most likely a lot more self governed and can skip a lot of exercises and assignments that are designed to kindergarden very young and often confused students.
Considering your experience, you should already know what kind of design you would like focus on.

It is true that Masters work often does not seems as tight as Bachelors work. This is because of the looser curriculum and the responsibility of the student to keep working on their own, there is no babysitting. As I understand it, “slacking of” is much more a danger in the Masters than in the Bachelors. This also means that some of the project that come out of the Masters is fantastic.
I think you should look at the best work that comes out of a school, not the average stuff.

Placement and work experience is essential. In the Maters though, I believe that it is very important that students already work closely with companies, start their own freelance businesses and network.
It is somewhat a transition period and absolutely perfect as a hub to start your practice.

As stated earlier, I have a couple of fellow students that come from other, non-design related fields who did the one year course in Umea, and they are doing just fine skill-wise.
I have to disagree with Sketchme on the issue of International students. verbal skills might be challenging, but we are visual people and I have benefited a lot from the international student body.

Sorry to resurrect a year old thread but I wanted to thank everyone here for their advice and let people know how I have progressed since in my transition from Engineering to ID and I hope this is helpful to others looking to do the same thing,

First up, I did a short program in product design at NABA, Milan to get my feet wet and add to whatever basic stuff I had in my portfolio of design projects in July 2010.

Following that, I worked on sprucing up my portfolio and presenting things the right way and worked very hard on a cover letter explaining my passions, why I did engineering and what I’m looking to do in life (ie. design). Using this, I set about applying to design consultancies here in India and got an offer from a couple and started working at one of them from late November 2010.

My work was a mix of pure id and a fair bit of design research and concept generation so it helped add some skills that I was lacking. My projects ranged from retail design to medical design and it helped me get a good understanding of an overarching design process.

Fast forward a few months and I now have an admit for the MSc program in Integrated Product Design at Brunel that I will be taking up. And I’m hoping by the end of this, I should be able to secure a job as a full on ID guy.

As for my skill set, I am still working on my sketching and rendering skills (they aren’t great though, still need a lot of work) and have spent some time picking up Solidworks and Hypershot while at work. So slowly but surely, the transition is happening and I will keep all of you posted on how it goes in the end.

Thanks for all the advice to those who replied to this thread and the amazing people here who contribute tirelessly to the many other threads on core. You have all been an invaluable resource for me.