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How to become a product design engineer

Last updated

27 June 2023

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Product design engineers are highly-valued specialists who play a vital role in product development. These professionals have many responsibilities, including market research, software-aided design, and manufacturing process control.

To become a product design engineer, you need to obtain a relevant bachelor's degree and the necessary hands-on experience. With the right education, experience, and expertise, these specialists can expect above-average competitive salaries and numerous opportunities for professional growth.

Let's take a closer look at what it takes to become a qualified product design engineer.

What is a product design engineer?

A product design engineer is a professional who researches the relevant market, evaluates product requirements, and then creates, tests, and improves product design. Once they submit the design, these specialists oversee the manufacturing process and provide advice.

Product design engineers have an in-depth understanding of the company's products, customers' requirements, and production costs. They are an integral part of the product manufacturing and improvement processes.

Sometimes, product design engineers may also help create a budget for the project and train employees for the design team.

Responsibilities of product design engineers

Product design engineers are responsible for many parts of the design, development, and manufacturing process. Depending on the company they work in and the size of the team, a product engineer may be liable for:

  • Conducting market research to evaluate the viability of the product

  • Coming up with design criteria based on the client's or company's needs and budget

  • Proposing product design idea

  • Creating a presentation of the idea to the client or company

  • Using computer-aided design (CAD) software to come up with design specifications and models as well as a list of necessary parts

  • Evaluating costs involved in product manufacturing

  • Researching the manufacturing process to build a working sample

  • Meeting with other engineers and manufacturers to oversee and streamline the manufacturing procedure

  • Tracking client or customer feedback after product implementation

A product design engineer may also be involved in product marketing campaigns and the team’s recruitment process.

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Skills of product design engineers

While studying and gaining experience, product design engineers develop a variety of crucial skills necessary to qualify for competitive salaries. Some of these skills include:

  • Knowledge of mechanical design

  • Understanding of the product manufacturing process

  • Ability to work with blueprint documentation

  • Knowledge of relevant software, including AutoCAD, Figma, Sketch, Adobe Creative Suite, etc.

  • Concept generation skills

  • Strong teamwork skills

  • Attention to detail

  • Analytical thinking

  • Problem-solving

  • Communication and presentation

Each company can have different requirements for the product design engineer role. Some employers could demand experience with specific software (QAD, ERP), while others may expect specialized experience with material fabrication processes.

Product design engineer salary depends on their skills, experience, and education. According to Salary.com, in the United States, these professionals can earn between $63,000 and $90,000 a year.  

Steps to becoming a product design engineer

Earn an academic degree

To become a product design engineer, you need to start by getting a bachelor's degree. This degree can be in:

  • Manufacturing engineering

  • Product design engineering technology

  • Mechanical engineering

  • Quality engineering

  • Computer-aided design

  • Graphic design

  • Product design

  • Industrial design

If the field isn't directly related to product design engineering, you’d need to get additional education or gain relevant experience. When choosing a program, consider schools that offer large-scale projects as part of the education. This can provide valuable experience and become a part of your resume.

In some cases, high-level product design engineering positions require a master's degree. While it's not a necessary element of becoming a product design engineer, it could help you climb the career ladder faster.

Take additional courses

To hone your product design skills, you may want to take additional courses with narrow specializations. For example, you can dig deeper into user experience design or fill in some blanks in manufacturing engineering.

Additional courses or bootcamps can also be a great opportunity to streamline your design tool knowledge. The more experience you have with specific design tools, the easier it can be to prove your abilities to potential employers.

Build a portfolio

While you’re getting your education, you can start building a portfolio. This portfolio can contain volunteering projects, freelance projects, and internship projects. You can find internship opportunities through your degree program or look for companies you may be interested in joining in the future.

As you finish your education and do a few projects, you can become a strong candidate for entry-level positions. Take this time to begin consulting with your college career counselor, networking with industry professionals, attending career fairs, following different companies on LinkedIn, and researching internship opportunities. 

While the salary at an entry-level position is likely to be low, it can provide you with much-needed industry experience. The more relevant experience you gain, the more chances you have of finding a high-level position.  

Obtain licensure

You may not require an engineering license for entry-level positions. However, it may become a necessity later on in your career. The requirements will vary based on your employer and the industry you’re working in. 

If you want to sell your own engineering services, have control over public projects, or supervise fellow engineers, you’ll need to be a licensed professional engineer. There are several ways you can obtain a license, including gaining a four-year degree from an accredited engineering program or working under a professional engineer for four years.

Product design engineer job outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for product designers is expected to grow by 3% until 2031. While this growth rate is slower than the average for other occupations, it's still sufficient to generate around 2,700 job openings annually.

With skills in product design, you can consider a variety of positions, including design researcher, industrial designer, packaging designer, user experience designer, product engineer, and many more.

Becoming a product design engineer

A career in product design engineering is an excellent choice for people who want to contribute to the quality of product manufacturing while gaining valuable skills for achieving top employment goals.

To get an entry-level position as a product design engineer, you need to gain relevant education and at least some hands-on experience. Once you start working in the field, you can continue your education, hone your skills, and advance your career.

FAQs

Does product design require coding?

A product designer doesn't need to know how to code. However, understanding coding basics is an advantage.

What type of engineering is best for design?

If you’re looking for additional education to complement your design knowledge, you may want to consider studying mechanical design engineering.

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