What does a design engineer do? (With qualifications)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 9 September 2022 | Published 30 November 2021

Updated 9 September 2022

Published 30 November 2021

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.

Design engineers are essential to improving the performance and effectiveness of everyday products and systems. Utilising intensive material and process-based research, a design engineer can work within a team or individually to modify existing designs or to produce alternate ones. They're also responsible for testing product prototypes and often use specific software to create models to improve functionality. In this article, we discuss what a design engineer does, what skills they require and their expected salary.

What does a design engineer do?

A design engineer studies, researches and develops ideas for new or existing systems to improve their efficiency and performance. The day-to-day duties that design engineers can expect to carry out include:

  • researching materials and processes to use for projects and products

  • attending departmental meetings to discuss product requests and consider how to improve products

  • working with a larger group of engineers to assess and test products

  • using specialist technical software to convert design ideas into functional models and plans for projects

  • constructing prototype products and testing their functionality

  • assessing industry guidelines and ensuring product safety and efficiency

  • reporting the current status and progress of products and systems

  • using mathematical-based modelling to consider how effective and workable the products and systems are in everyday life

Related: Complete Guide: What is Product Engineering

Where do design engineers work?

Design engineers work in a variety of industries. The expertise and skills that a design engineer earns are extremely valuable in sectors such as pharmaceuticals and aeronautics. The intensive research element of a design engineer's role also makes them suitable for positions within research institutions, consumer product companies and computer hardware companies. The skills of a design engineer aren't limited to the construction or electrical industries, as they're in high demand in many sectors.

What is the average salary of a design engineer?

Most design engineers start their roles on a full-time basis and the salary they receive depends on a variety of factors, including their qualifications and experience. The average salary for a design engineer is £35,468 per year, but depending on the company and its location, they may earn between £22,000 and £55,000.

What qualifications do design engineers need?

Most design engineers earn a degree, a Higher National Certificate (HNC) or a Higher National Diploma (HND) involving industrial and/or engineering product design and computer-aided design, also known as CAD or CAE software. Degrees or subjects that revolve around civil engineering and mechanical engineering can also prove useful if you're hoping to become a design engineer:

  • Degree level**:** A degree in design engineering, product design engineering or mechanical engineering is extremely valuable because of the knowledge and experience gained in CAD software, manufacturing processes and machine design.

  • Higher National Certificate**:** A HNC is equivalent to the first year of university study. It takes one year to earn and provides you with the basic knowledge and experience of valuable CAD software and the design process.

  • Higher National Diploma**:** A HND is equivalent to a foundation degree in academic terms, meaning the first two years of university study. An HND takes two years to earn and is more practical-based than a traditional BA degree because of greater emphasis placed on work placements and gaining valuable practical experience.

  • Apprenticeship qualification**:** Choosing to do an engineering apprenticeship is a great way to gain an industry recognised degree equivalent whilst predominantly working hands-on with valuable industry experts, tools and software.

Related: How to become a CAD technician

Skills of design engineers

Design engineers need a variety of skills to be successful in this role. Some examples of valuable skills include:

Teamwork

Teamwork is an extremely valuable skill for design engineers to assess, design and produce prototypes or models. Many design engineers work collaboratively with other engineers, designers, marketing and financial experts and larger departmental teams to design and develop products and systems. The ability to confidently and comfortably delegate responsibilities across team members can prove valuable for a senior design engineer.

Communication

A design engineer needs excellent communication skills to ensure that any feedback received and ideas shared are well articulated and understandable. Design engineers base their ideas and designs on feedback and requests provided to them, which makes the ability to listen closely and process these requests important. Communication is vital for pitching and explaining your design ideas and suggestions within the work environment.

Analytics

It's extremely important for a design engineer to think analytically. It's especially critical as they pay attention to the smallest details of a prototype, design or system to maximise performance and effectiveness. The ability to take an analytical approach and identify any problems or issues, whilst also providing a valuable solution, is vital for this role.

Technical expertise

Technical proficiency is a requirement for the role of a design engineer as so much of the designing and construction of models and plans uses technical software like CAD. The ability to use this software confidently is important to showcase your design ideas and suggestions. Any knowledge or experience working with technical manufacturing equipment and tools may also be a beneficial skill dependent on the industry to better understand materials, processes and systems in greater detail.

Mathematical ability

Design engineers encounter complex software regularly. When redesigning and calculating product or system improvements, it's valuable to have the mathematical ability. This contributes directly ensures that measurements are correct.

Creative thinking

A creative flair is essential for a design engineer. It's this creativity that leads to new ideas, solutions and improvements to existing products and systems. As an engineer, the creative aspect is vital to design.

Good time management

The ability to manage time effectively is extremely valuable for a design engineer who may manage multiple projects of different sizes. These projects may require individual attention or to work as part of a wider team. Being able to prioritise the most important tasks ensures all deadlines get met.

Problem solving

Design engineers benefit from problem-solving skills as these enable them to identify problems and issues that a prototype, design idea, system or product may have quickly and help them discover a method to improve it.

Related: 11 top job skills: transferable skills for any industry

How to become a design engineer

While having a passion for the industry is important, it's not enough to become a design engineer. You also require the relevant education, qualifications and experience. Now that you know what a design engineer does, here are some steps to follow if you wish to become one:

1. Focus on your education

There are many educational paths available to gain the qualifications to work as a design engineer. You can choose between a traditional bachelor's degree in engineering product design, computer-aided design engineering or industrial design, amongst others. Completing an HNC, HNDs or apprenticeships in the field is also suitable.

2. Get some valuable experience

Gaining work experience that applies to the industry can increase your chances of obtaining a design engineer role. You can gain this valuable experience by enrolling in internships or volunteer schemes that give you a chance to get practical experience in the sector. Many companies offer shadowing opportunities or work placements for you to gain experience in the role and in a working environment. If you have pursued an undergraduate BA degree, there may be opportunities to pursue a year in industry to coincide with your studies.

3. Acquire the important certifications required

Earning relevant certifications is essential for becoming a design engineer. Suitable certifications are those that revolve around engineering or design software. For example, a recognised CAD certification demonstrates your proficiency with the software. You can also gain an engineering management certification that applies to the wider industry you're aiming to get into.

Related: Types of degrees and how they can influence your career

4. Apply for design engineer job positions

The application process for design engineer roles can vary depending on the company, but many people demonstrate their skills and experience in their cover letter and a CV. It's important to showcase the qualifications, certifications and work experience you have earned to increase the strength of your application. It's useful to tailor your cover letter and CV to the specific job role to demonstrate that you would be a valuable addition to the company.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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