Career in Designing After Mechanical Engineering: Paths & Tips

Graduating with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and thinking, “What’s next?” You’re not alone, navigating the career crossroads between gears and design. But guess what? There’s a canvas for your technical skills that doesn’t involve oil stains on your favorite shirt. By the end of this read, you’ll have a clear roadmap to a career in design that leverages your mechanical engineering prowess.

Quick Takeaways:

  • Mechanical engineers are primed for a design career pivot, bringing problem-solving, CAD expertise, and a systems-thinking approach to the table.
  • Transitioning to design involves updating skills through courses, crafting a story-driven portfolio, and networking with the design community.
  • Regularly engaging with professional development resources like online courses, workshops, and design podcasts keeps a design-focused engineer at the forefront of industry trends.

Is a Career in Design Viable for Mechanical Engineers?

Absolutely! Mechanical engineering isn’t just about gears and torque; it’s a broad field that offers a strong foundation for venturing into design. In fact, mechanical engineering principles are remarkably relevant to various design disciplines. The expertise in problem-solving that mechanical engineers are known for? It’s a perfect fit for tackling design challenges. The deep understanding of materials and manufacturing processes you’ve gained? That’s gold in creating functional and feasible designs. And let’s not forget CAD (Computer-Aided Design) tools – they’re the bread and butter for modern designers, and you’ve probably already mastered several of them.

Mechanical engineers have a knack for dissecting complex problems and piecing together solutions that balance aesthetics with functionality. This skill set is transferable across many specialties in design, making the switch more of a pivot than a leap. Your ability to envision systems, both big and small, ensures that you can design products that are not only appealing but also viable for production and use.

What Kind of Design Fields Can I Get Into?

The design world is your oyster as a mechanical engineer. The fields accessible are diverse, engaging, and ripe with opportunities:

  1. Product Design: Imagine conceptualizing the next big gadget or home appliance. Product designers need a solid grasp of how things work, making mechanical engineers naturally fit for these roles. Day-to-day, you’ll brainstorm new ideas, sketch out concepts, and test prototypes to create products that are both usable and marketable.

  2. Automotive Design: Cars are a complex blend of beauty and machine – a space where mechanical engineers can truly shine. Within automotive design, you could be shaping the future of mobility, examining how form influences function, and ensuring the vehicle performs as stunningly as it looks.

  3. Industrial Design: This field requires a careful balance of practicality and aesthetics. Industrial designers focus on the usability of products on a larger scale, from heavy machinery to consumer goods. Here, your understanding of manufacturing processes and materials is indispensable.

  4. UX/UI Design: Although it might seem like a stretch, the user-centric focus of mechanical engineering is a great precursor to UX/UI design. Designing physical systems and digital interfaces have parallels, such as considering the user’s comfort and ease of use.

Each role demands a unique mix of creativity, analytical thinking, and technical know-how, and every day brings new and exciting challenges.

How Do I Transition From Mechanical Engineering to Design?

Transitioning from mechanical engineering to a design career can be invigorating and may set you on a path to reinvention. Here’s how you can make the switch:

  • Get Additional Training: To bridge any knowledge gaps, consider courses in design theory, user experience, or software specific to your design field of interest. Online platforms like Coursera or Udemy offer a wide range of options.

  • Build a Portfolio: This is crucial. Start collecting your work, even engineering projects that included design elements. Consider freelance gigs or personal projects to bolster your portfolio with pure design work.

  • Network Within the Design Community: Join communities, attend workshops, and connect with other designers. LinkedIn and local meetups can be goldmines for building relationships and learning about opportunities.

  • Consider a Master’s Degree: If you’re ready to commit to a serious shift, a master’s degree in a design field can provide both the credentials and the in-depth knowledge to help solidify your transition.

One actionable and often overlooked tip is to write design-based case studies about your engineering projects. This not only showcases your design thinking but also tells a story about your transition, making your journey relatable to potential employers.

Remember, transitioning to a design career is not the end of your blog post, nor your journey. It’s a continuous process – one where your mechanical engineering background becomes a unique asset in the vast and dynamic design landscape. Keep learning, keep creating, and your path from mechanical engineering to design will be as rewarding as it is exciting.

What Should I Focus On In My Portfolio?

When you’re building your design portfolio as a mechanical engineer, think of it as a storytelling tool that highlights your journey, skills, and potential. Your portfolio should be a balanced mix of technical prowess, innovative thinking, and a thorough understanding of the design process. Here are a few key elements to shine a spotlight on:

  • Problem-solving skills: Showcase projects where you’ve turned complex problems into elegant solutions. Details matter, so don’t be shy; show off the nitty-gritty calculations or simulations you used to get there.
  • Design projects: Include a variety of design work, from CAD drawings to 3D models, that demonstrate your command of design principles and your ability to envision functional products.
  • Collaborative experiences: Being a team player is crucial. Highlight any interdisciplinary projects and emphasize your role in ensuring the gears of team efforts turned smoothly.
  • Process documentation: Sometimes, the journey is as important as the destination. Include sketches, prototypes, and mind maps that map out how you iterate and improve on design ideas.

Remember, quality trumps quantity. A portfolio that tells a compelling story of a few well-chosen projects is better than a suitcase stuffed with everything you’ve ever touched.

Can My Engineering Experience Give Me an Edge in Design?

Absolutely, your mechanical engineering background can give you a unique edge in the design world. Your analytical mind is like a Swiss army knife – versatile and precise. Here are the ways your engineering background can be a boon:

  • Analytical approach: As a mechanical engineer, you have a strong foundation in analyzing and optimizing designs for efficiency and effectiveness – vital in creating designs that aren’t just pretty, but practical.
  • Attention to detail: Those tiny details can make or break a product. Your knack for noticing and perfecting the minutiae can lead to superior and refined design outcomes.
  • Systems-thinking: You’re trained to see the big picture – how each cog fits into the machine. This means you can design with the entire system in mind, ensuring every part aligns with the next for seamless functionality.

Salt and pepper your portfolio with instances where these skills made a tangible difference. A project where your keen eye for detail caught a potential flaw before production, for instance, is pure gold.

How Can I Stay Current with Design Trends and Tools?

The design landscape is constantly shifting, and staying up-to-date is non-negotiable. Continuous learning is your ticket to staying relevant. Here’s how to ensure you don’t miss the train:

  • Online courses: Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning offer a wealth of knowledge, from the fundamentals to the latest in technology and design thinking.
  • Workshops and conferences: These are hotspots for networking and trend-spotting. Check out events like the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) conferences for the latest buzz.
  • Professional communities: Join forums and groups like GrabCAD or the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Peer exchange can be one of the best ways to stay in the loop.

Here’s a golden nugget you might not find on every blog: get your hands on design and industry-related podcasts. They’re easily digestible, perfect for your commute, and can keep you informed about the latest happenings in the design world.

In conclusion , your transition from mechanical engineering to design isn’t just a leap of faith—it’s a logical step forward, leveraging your technical background to create innovative, functional designs. Equip your portfolio with proof of your talent, spotlight your engineering edge, and keep your knowledge fresh and flowing. Dive into the depths of design with your engineer’s toolbox in hand, and you’ll surely surface with pearls.

  • Alex Mitch

    Hi, I'm the founder of! Having been in finance and tech for 10+ years, I was surprised at how hard it can be to find answers to common questions in finance, tech and business in general. Because of this, I decided to create this website to help others!