What do engineers at design firms do?

Hey guys, lurker signing up to ask a question of great personal import here.

I’m an engineer at a medical device company and have been looking into jobs at product design firms since they seem a little more diverse in the nature of the work, and things move more quickly. I do mechanical design, but was recently told there are differences in what ‘design’ means in the product design industry - that ‘design’ is shorthand for and limited strictly to ID.

Naturally I’m a little confused as to what role the mechanical engineers are expected to fill at these firms. Specifically, is the engineer part of the design process? Or is he simply the guy that does the CAD work, answers an occasional technical question, and fabricates the design others have created? Basically, is he some kind of janitor that allows the ‘real’ designers to do their job?

Welcome aboard!

Yours is a seemingly eternal (and often emotionally heated) question/discussion that has, in one form or another, been posed on this site for, literally, years.

Read through this one.


A Design Engineer at a firm is expected to a varied array of things from core ME and EE work, CAD and B-side design of mechanisms to broader things like participating in design charrettes and brainstorm sessions as a technical representative, concepting and detailing manufacturing process, production documentation… depends on the firm, the clients, and the project. It tends to be more creative than a typical ME role, it also has a lot of demands as an ME operating in a design environment and typically the MEs that are successful in those environments become very passionate about design and look for engineering challenges and design requests (no visible fasteners, it has to hinge this way, the part line needs to be in an arc, can we put a slide in the tool to get this undercut… things like that…)

Thanks, that’s really encouraging to hear. Guess I’ll be putting that portfolio thing together.

Since I’ve already started this thread, any advice on what people look for in an engineering portfolio?

Don’t tell me why you can’t do something, but how your expertise helps do something others won’t/can’t. I’ve meet a lot of engineers who treat new product development like continuous engineering. Its just not. Best practices are fine, but I want someone with vision to help define what’s next.

Its actually a hard role to fill…it can be the opposite of how most engineers work and think.

Where are you located?

I would also add that it varies greatly based on what specific firm you’re at. I’m sure there is a spectrum of how integrated the engineers are in the design process, but also in how much engineering a design firm actually does. A lot of design firms (especially smaller ones) actually have zero engineers on staff, even if they list engineering as part of their services. They just contract out the engineering to another firm if it does need engineering and they aren’t sending it back to their client to be finished there. And others have a greater focus on engineering work than design (where I work), or even only do engineering work (these don’t do as much “product design,” but still get a diversity of work).

Our firm (http://www.metcalfegroup.com) was founded by an engineer and started out doing product design from an engineer’s perspective, with things such as construction products, but has moved into a wider variety of product design since I (an ID) came on board. Here engineers have input and influence from the start, even if the work at a specific phase is primarily ID. And it goes the other way - I work on projects that might be considered “engineers only.” And we do have some of those, though in some cases there isn’t much “engineering design” being done - just FEAs or consulting for one of the design firms without engineers mentioned above (though there have been projects that have been more of a collaboration, with the other firm having done the front end concept but doing most of the rest with us). I know there are other firms like us out there, right now the one that comes to mind is http://www.designintegrity.com (I haven’t spoke with them or anything,I’m just going from the impression of their website).

@asango: Noted. I’m in R&D at a startup and have lead a couple of new product development projects. Hopefully that plays well.

I live in LA currently. Not really tied to staying here though. Would rather leave, to be honest.

@seurban: Do you know of any trade publications that you and your competitors advertise in? Directories you’re listed in? Trade shows you go to? I’ve started doing some research, but it’s hard sifting through the pile by going to each website individually.

Sorry, I don’t have a good answer for this. My boss does go to some shows, but they’re just trade shows for markets we work in or want to work in, like ones for the sanitary market and automotive aftermarket. We do get various publications for design engineers (some of which are semi-useless repackaged press releases), but they’re nothing we’d advertise in. We actually don’t do any advertising currently, though we’ve talked about it some recently. I don’t know where our competitors are advertising either, except google. I see various adds pop up in my gmail often, but that’s not much help. I might check out PDMA though, they’re a product development organization, not just design. Other than that, I’d just try searching for “design engineering [city]” or some other terms to try to find the types of firms you’re interested in, but you’ll still have to weed them out individually.

And to perhaps temper what I said before - there are definitely firms out there that are “design” (as in mostly ID) first, or at least are known for that, that have a robust engineering department. I could be wrong, but I think they’re typically the larger firms (I believe Yo works at Frog), but they’re definitely out there. Sorry I don’t have a better way to tell them apart.

I just recently discovered having an engineering portfolio seems to be a relatively new concept. Usually what I have seen in the past is just a word document and rarely there might be some screenshots of cad models. However its apparent that other school have started to implement portfolio courses into the curriculum so it’s now more important than ever to have one that sets you aside from the over abundance of job applicants out there.

The most important factor with any portfolio is the ability to tell a story. Sure its great to show images of cad from past projects but what did you do? What was your responsibility? It’s good to keep in mind that your portfolio should be able to tell this story on its own without you there. What I mean by this is don’t just have a booklet thats a grab bag of jpegs and screenshots, have some substance along with it. Even if its a small caption that simply says how you arrived at a solution, thats way more than what I have seen from past engineer portfolio submissions. When I see your portfolio I want to understand how you think and get a glimpse into what your decision making process is like. If you chose a certain material be sure you can speak to why you chose it.

Also remember that depending on the type of environment you may be applying to work in, you will be meeting with several people from different backgrounds in the interview. The commonality between these people is that they all will want to feel confident in that you have the ability to make the right decisions for their company. Hope this helps.

Seurban, I was looking into PDMA and their NPDP certification since my current company suggested it. Is this certification recognized in the industry? Seems kinda new.

Thanks for the input DS85. I should have something put together by the end of the week and will post here for feedback.