How to become a design engineer (and design engineer skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Before the release of any product, it goes through a stringent process of design to ensure that every aspect works exactly as the company expects. This ensures there's no risk to customers or members of staff in the production process and keeps everyone related as safe as possible. Design engineers are integral parts of completing this process effectively. In this article, we discuss how to become a design engineer, some of the key steps in the process and the skills design engineers use on a daily basis in their work.

How to become a design engineer

If you've ever wondered how to become a design engineer, then below are some of the key steps in the process of becoming a design engineer and an explanation of why each step is essential for pursuing this career path successfully:

1. Complete your education

As with the majority of other jobs, aspiring to a long-term career as a design engineer relies on completing your education. This not only refers to tertiary education such as a degree but also the earlier stages of your education. Completing the full range of GCSEs and A-Levels in related subjects such as maths, technology, design and science demonstrates a commitment to personal development in the long term.

These subjects can lead you into the completion of a relevant degree which is an essential step towards becoming a design engineer. Undertaking a Bachelor's in Mathematics or Engineering has a significant benefit for the scientific requirements of the job, while technical art and architecture develop your design skills. The right pathway depends on your preferences for a future career, but you may be able to take minor subjects in some of these areas.

Related: A beginner's guide to earning your undergraduate degree

2. Further education and training

Alongside completing your education, expanding your horizons through further education and/or training courses is key. Your undergraduate degree can help you determine which areas are most interesting to you. You may then decide to complete a Masters's to focus your understanding of this area of design engineering or undertake a training course through a specialist provider. Both options can deepen and develop your skill set, giving you opportunities to develop your theoretical and practical learning in the field. If you're looking to go into a more scientific area of design engineering, you may wish to undertake a PhD.

3. Look for internships and apprenticeships

Internships and apprenticeships are a key part of making the most of your potential in any given field. They offer paid opportunities in a wide range of workplaces, ensuring that potential candidates for entry into the same marketplace have a wealth of experience before entering the labour force. As someone seeking a long term career in the role of a design engineer, starting from a level of knowledge is better than going into the role with no existing preparation or information about the position.

Many educational institutions offer internships and apprenticeships for their students which can provide you with a wealth of opportunities for hands-on experiential learning within companies. The best universities have links with many workplaces at the forefront of their industry, so good work experience opportunities provide an invaluable addition to an applicant's CV that others struggle with attaining. Work experience is essential in showing that you can apply your theoretical learning to tangible results and is crucial in helping you gain your first job as a design engineer.

Related: How much do apprentices make? (Including job descriptions and how to apply)

4. Start low and build

In the field of design engineering, there's a wide range of different roles applicants take up. This means that there's plenty of potential for a new applicant to the industry when looking for an ideal starting position. Starting in a lower position means that you have less responsibility and understand your role better than some of the more key positions within the given company. You adapt to the position more effectively than in many other positions whilst having plenty of growth potential.

At this stage, consider taking on a role in the company you want to work for in the long term. Taking on a role in these companies has a series of different benefits. Firstly, they understand who you are as a person and know your suitability for the position. Furthermore, some companies focus on promoting internally, so working for the organisation in a lower position means you're in the right position for promotions going forwards. From the start of your employment in the industry, strategically choosing employers is key.

5. Look for vacancies

Once you work within the industry and are in your role for at least six months, you can begin to look for potential routes for progression. At this point, you have a significant amount of experience and therefore have a higher potential for success in the job application process. A combination of experience and education means that your position is strong, improving your prospects of success throughout the job application process.

Places to look for jobs include industry-specific journals and magazines, jobs websites, networking at industry events and conferences, professional membership bodies, academic institutions and directly with company websites that you have an interest in working for. Read the job descriptions as thoroughly as possible to ensure that the compensation package meets your expectations, you can match the requirements of the role and you have the necessary qualifications. Only apply for roles that work for you, as employment in the sector can have fixed-term contracts depending on the nature of the company and the specific industry in question.

6. Apply for relevant roles

Once you find roles that are right for you, apply for them. Only by applying for the relevant roles can you find the roles in question, as design engineer recruitment is relatively rarely a headhunted position. Be as honest as possible throughout the design engineer application process, as many companies cross-reference your character and ensure that you're the right fit for the job. Honesty is the best policy and lands you roles in a range of companies when the hiring organisation values strong character traits.

Depending on the company in question, the design engineer application process features several steps. The first is to complete any relevant application forms, submit your CV and write a cover letter. You may also complete a preliminary assessment that assesses your suitability for the role and the company culture. Finally, the company interviews the shortlist and finds an ideal candidate from this field. Preparing in advance for each step is key and benefits your prospects later in the process.

What skills do design engineers use?

The role of a design engineer highly varies from one day to the next. Some of the most common skills design engineers use daily and why they're key for effective working practices include:

Problem-solving skills

Problem-solving skills play an essential role in the day to day tasks of a design engineer. Although the design of a product works perfectly, there may be issues with the functionality or affordability of the product. The design engineer's role is in ensuring that the organisation overcomes these issues in the most effective ways possible, retaining affordability throughout the organisation and giving the product the best chance of success.

Creativity

In addition to solving problems, a sense of imagination, curiosity and creative thinking is a key part of the design process. Product differentiation is an essential part of working in design, as getting your product to stand out in comparison to other pieces of work on the market ensures a far greater level of revenue for the organisation. By making full use of creativity and converting ideas into fun and unique products, a design engineer makes the most of a company's potential and creates products beyond the typical competitor.

Related: Why creativity skills are important and how to develop them

Communication

Companies work to strict client briefs and customer profiles to ensure that their products deliver on their own needs, maintain a high level of quality and meet the target audience's requirements. Being able to interpret and absorb instructions, liaise with others, ask the right questions and communicate clearly both in writing and through speech is vital. This gives the best chance of success and the product fulfilling its potential in the market.

Explore more articles