What Is a Design Engineer? A Comprehensive Career Guide
Updated 9 July 2022
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Design engineering is a career field that suits individuals from technical and creative backgrounds. Since it is a combination of design and engineering, professionals in this field should have a good understanding of diverse subjects relating to both fields. If you are planning to become a design engineer, you need to have some basic skills and qualifications. In this article, we define what is a design engineer, outline their duties, salary and career prospects, and discuss how you can start a career in this field.
What is a design engineer?
A design engineer is a professional who uses combined knowledge of design and engineering processes to plan and execute projects. They are required to possess the technical skills and problem-solving mentality of an engineer, along with the creativity and application-oriented thinking of a designer.
Design engineers may specialise within branches of engineering design, including electrical, chemical, electronics, communication, mechanical and structural engineering. These professionals often need to use computer-aided design tools for drafting, modelling, testing and rendering. The focus of their work lies in using a deep knowledge of applied sciences and design methodologies to develop real-words products, services and systems.
What does a design engineer do?
Design engineers use computer-aided design (CAD) software to develop, test and improve manufacturing processes and product designs. They often work in teams to boost the functionality of a company's products and advance the methods by which they are made. Design engineer duties include:
Meeting with managers and research and development (R&D) teams to understand the parameters of design requests
Using CAD and Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) software to convert ideas to models and plans
Working with other engineers on different aspects of the same project
Constructing and testing prototypes and designs
Revising ideas as new requirements arise
Ensuring all plans and prototypes conform to industry standards and guidelines
What qualifications do you need to be a design engineer?
To work as a design engineer, you should consider pursuing the following qualifications:
Bachelor's degree in design or engineering
Popular undergraduate courses in engineering include B.Tech (Bachelor of Technology) in mechanical, civil, electronics, computer science or electrical engineering. If you have a 50% aggregate score in engineering subjects in your board exams, you can appear for exams like JEE (Joint Entrance Examination). Popular design undergraduate courses include B.Des (Bachelor of Design) in graphic design, product design, fashion design and multimedia design. The entrance examinations for these courses include the UCEED (Undergraduate Common Entrance Exam for Design), DAT (Design Aptitude Test for National Institute of Design), SEED (Symbiosis Entrance Exam for Design) and the NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology) entrance exam.
Master's degree in design or engineering
Although not mandatory, a postgraduate degree in design or engineering can improve your opportunities in the field. Popular courses include M.Tech (Master of Technology) in mechanical, civil, electrical or computer science engineering. Admissions for postgraduate programs in engineering happen through the GATE (Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering) exam. Masters courses in design include M.Des (Master of Design) in product design, graphic design, furniture design, lifestyle accessory design, transport and automobile design, universal design and information design. To pursue these courses, you should appear for exams like the DAT, CEED (Common Entrance Examination for Design) and the NIFT entrance exam.
Software tools like AutoCAD, 3DS Max, CorelDraw and Adobe Creative Suite are central to the work of design engineers. If you are good at using these tools, you can take online tests conducted by certain software companies to get certified as an expert. Certifications are available for varying degrees of expertise and help an employer pinpoint the extent of your skill in a particular domain. Most professionals use AutoCAD, the certifications for which are offered by Autodesk. If you are in the field of visual design, you can try to procure an Adobe certification for any of their Creative Cloud software like Photoshop, Illustrator and XD.
Skills required for design engineering
Design engineers need several soft and hard skills to do their job well. Here are some examples:
Creativity: although a design engineer uses science and technology to develop their ideas, they must rely on their own creativity, ingenuity and patience to find solutions to design problems.
Technical skills: expertise in AutoCAD and other drafting software is a requirement for this job. Knowledge of some manufacturing equipment will also be useful depending on the industry.
Analytical thinking: design engineers constantly change small details of a prototype or a system flow that can have large impacts. Identifying problems, troubleshooting and developing and implementing solutions requires a detailed analysis in each task.
Time management: depending on the size of the firm that employs them, design engineers might manage one product or all the design needs of the company. Design engineers should be able to prioritise tasks, make and adhere to deadlines and create timelines for work completion.
Communication: a design engineer reviews ideas and requests from people in other departments—research and development, marketing, customer relations—and turns those ideas into physical reality. They must have excellent listening and processing skills to understand design requests. They must also have the capability to explain technical parameters to non-technical coworkers in clear terms.
Teamwork: design engineers collaborate with other engineers, designers, floor workers, supervisors, financial experts and marketing teams to create and develop products. They must be able to delegate, accept responsibilities and share ideas with ease.
Related: How To Improve Communication Skills
How to start a career in design engineering
Here are some steps that you can follow to become a design engineer:
1. Pursue formal education in relevant fields
To practise as a design engineer, you should at least have an undergraduate degree. Employers will prefer candidates with engineering and design degrees, but having completed a course like B.Arch (Bachelor of Architecture) can also make you eligible for working as a design engineer. Pursue master's level education if you are keen on specialising in a certain field within design or engineering. For further academic engagement in this field, you can pursue a doctorate degree, which also allows you to teach design engineering or conduct research.
Related: How To Share Your Education Background
2. Gain relevant work experience
When you start out, volunteer programs and internships are the best way to gain relevant work experience in the field of design engineering. You can also try to get entry-level jobs in manufacturing, customer service, drafting and production engineering to build work experience before you apply for the role of a design engineer.
Related: How To Write Work Experience on Your CV
3. Earn certifications
In a competitive field like design engineering, certifications become a verifiable record of your skills and expertise. In addition to software certifications, you can also pursue certifications in subjects like engineering management to improve your opportunities.
4. Search for vacancies
Identify the exact field in which you want to work, and apply for positions that you think would be a good fit for you, in terms of education, skills and experience. Attach a cover letter with your job application that summarises your intent for joining the company. If you have relevant work samples, you can share them as a portfolio, along with your application.
Job prospects for design engineers
Design engineers may work for public sector undertakings, private companies or pursue an independent practice. Here are some typical work settings for design engineers:
Construction companies and architecture firms
Engineering and design consultancies
Pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies
Power and utility companies
Aeronautical and aerospace firms
Electronics and consumer goods industries
Automotive parts companies
Computer hardware companies
Home goods manufacturers
How much does a design engineer make?
The average starting salary for a design engineer is ₹2,55,889 per year. Depending on their skills and experience, a senior design engineer can make a base salary of ₹5,40,891 per year.
If you are interested in design engineering, here are some related careers that might interest you:
Systems engineer: systems engineers integrate, design and manage production systems and complex mechanisms that are involved in the delivery of services. The average base salary for a systems engineer is ₹5,61,490 per year.
Project engineer: project engineers manage and oversee all aspects of technical projects, including scheduling, recruitment processes and budgeting. The average base salary for a project engineer is ₹3,37,138 per year.
Process engineer: process engineers are responsible for designing, optimising, controlling and implementing machinery and production processes in the manufacturing industry. The average base salary for a process engineer is ₹4,32,738 per year.
Manufacturing engineer: manufacturing engineers operate and design integrated systems to produce competitive products of the highest quality, within given economic limitations. The average base salary for a manufacturing engineer is ₹7,13,800 per year.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing.
Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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