What Is a Design Engineer? Definition and Steps To Become One

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 10 December 2022

Published 17 August 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.

A design engineer helps find innovative solutions in a multitude of industries, using design skills and technical knowledge. If you have an interest in inventing products, this could be a great career path to pursue. Learning about the steps to take in order to find employment and which skills to develop can help you advance on your career path and become successful. In this article, we learn what a design engineer is, discuss common job duties and provide a career outlook including salaries, work environment, skills and places where you can work.

What is a design engineer?

On what a design engineer is, this type of engineering professional develops products and processes to improve their company. They use computer software to create designs and develop prototypes to test their ideas. There are opportunities in several industries for engineers who want to work on design teams, such as aerospace, electronics and consumer manufacturing.

What do design engineers do?

Design engineers use computer-aided design (CAD) software to develop, test and improve manufacturing processes and product designs. Common job duties include:

  • Meet with managers and research and development (R&D) teams to discuss specifications of the design from products and processes

  • Use CAD and Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) software to convert ideas to models and plans

  • Collaborate with other engineers to complete projects

  • Build prototypes

  • Test prototypes and make improvements to the design

  • Draw blueprints of their designs

  • Adhere to industry regulations for all designs

  • Assess manufacturing processes and identify areas for improvement to increase efficiency

  • Supervise manufacturing teams who work with their designs or prototypes

  • Create cost estimates and budgets for projects

How to become a design engineer

Here are some steps that you can follow to become a design engineer:

1. Pursue an education

Earn at least a bachelor's degree to meet the minimum requirements for most engineering positions in design. Areas of study include design engineering, manufacturing engineering, mechanical engineering or product design engineering technology. Programs include instruction on how to use CAD software and teach students about machine design, manufacturing processes and thermodynamics. Often, students show their understanding of concepts with hands-on activities.

Consider earning a master's if you're specialising in a certain type of design engineering, such as construction or electronics. Having a master's degree can increase your earning potential and job opportunities. If you have an interest in research or teaching, you may need a doctoral degree. With a doctorate in design engineering, you can work at universities or become the head researcher in research and development departments or facilities.

Related: Career Goals: How To Set, Examples and Tips for Achieving

2. Gain work experience

Obtaining an internship or finding volunteer opportunities helps gain valuable experience to include on your resume. Internships provide hands-on experience and help students understand the daily duties and responsibilities engineers have. Internships and volunteering in the field are great ways to meet other designers and engineering professionals. This helps build a network, which is a source for learning about the industry and finding career opportunities.

Another option is to get work experience in an entry-level role for an engineering firm or manufacturing company as a coordinator or customer service representative. This helps the employer become familiar with you and gives you an opportunity to advance in your career while learning more about your role.

Related: How to Create an Industrial Design Resume (With an Example)

3. Earn certifications

There are many certifications you can earn to show employers your proficiency and to help qualify you for positions. For example, Autodesk offers a certification in AutoCAD that demonstrates your proficiency in the AutoCAD software program that many design engineers use to create and convert their designs. To earn any of the certifications, you must pass an online exam. Employers don't always require you to be certified but earning a certification can improve employment opportunities.

4. Apply for open positions

Once you have found open positions that match your level of education and experience, carefully read the instructions for applying. Write a cover letter to express your interest and qualifications for the role. It's also helpful to tailor your resume for each position so you can make a good impression on employers and show that you are genuinely interested in their company. Carefully review the job description to identify keywords you can include in your application materials. This helps applicant tracking systems verify your application.

Related: How To Format Your Resume (With Examples)

Certifications for a design engineer

If you wish to specialise, it's helpful to earn certifications so that you can learn knowledge unique to the area you want to be an expert in. Universities offer specialised certifications in all fields of engineering. To earn a certification, you can complete the course which requires 21 hours of study. As a designer, you may be interested in the following:

  • Certificate in Digitalisation and Technology for Construction (DTC)

  • Certificate in Process Safety (PS)

  • Certificate in Process & Systems Engineering (PSE)

  • Structural Design Technology (SDT)

  • Certificate in Technological Innovation Management (TIM)

  • Certificate in Technology for Environmental Sustainability (TES)

Skills for design engineers

Here's a collection of hard and soft skills that may aid you in becoming successful in your field:

Mathematical and technical skills

Technical skills are necessary to work with complex CAD software that is used for drafting product designs and creating prototypes. A thorough understanding of these tools can help a design engineer understand their raw materials and design products and processes better. They commonly use mathematics for drawing designs and develop blueprints to show building specifications.

Creativity

Engineering may be a science and technology field, but designers can use creativity to develop product designs, find solutions for improvement and when testing their prototypes. Being curious and trying new ideas leads to innovation. Creativity can also help inspire others in the workplace, which can facilitate collaboration between designers and other engineers or employees on the design team.

Analytical thinking

This skill requires observation and critical thinking skills. Analytical thinking helps to identify problems, troubleshoot issues with designs and prototypes and also informs the process of developing new products or processes by which to manufacture products. In this role, a job duty may be to analyse processes or manufacturing practices in order to create ways to make the process more efficient.

Related: What Are Analytical Skills and Why Are They Important for Employment?

Time management

Depending on where you work and the size of the engineering firm or design department, you might manage all the design needs of the company, including developing products and making improvements to manufacturing processes. The ability to prioritise tasks and meet deadlines is essential to success. Time management also helps create timeframes for project completion, which may be necessary when the project uses your designs.

Related: Time Management Skills: Examples and Improvement Strategies

Communication

Communication is a valuable skill for professionals in any field. In this position, collaborating with other engineers and professionals in the design department is necessary to complete projects. It's also common to work with the research and development department. Having the ability to convey your own ideas and listen to and understand the ideas of others helps develop the best products.

Related: How to Improve Communication Skills (With Definition and Examples)

Teamwork

Collaboration with other engineers, designers, floor workers, supervisors, financial experts and marketing teams is a significant aspect of this engineering role. Teamwork is important so that you can get along with and build relationships with your coworkers. This also contributes to a positive work environment.

Related: What Is Teamwork? (Plus Skills and Examples of Teamwork)

Leadership

Other departments use your designs to complete projects. For example, construction crews use your designs to build. You may delegate, accept responsibilities and share ideas with ease. Leadership is important to gain trust and respect from your coworkers. In design, leadership skills are useful for directing others to manufacture the product designs you create. If you design processes, you can supervise the implementation of the process.

Related: Leadership Skills: Definitions and Examples

Average salary

The average salary of a design engineer is $59,073 per year. Salaries often depend on your education level and work experience. The size, type and location where you work can also affect your earnings. It's a full-time position where you work regular business hours. Most employers also offer great benefits packages. If you're interested in design engineering, here are some related careers with salaries that might interest you:

  • Systems engineer: $65,387 per year

  • Project engineer: $50,534 per year

  • Process engineer: $58,345 per year

  • Manufacturing engineer: $53,528 per year

  • Mechanical engineer: $51,413 per year

Related: What Does a Project Engineer Do? (With Duties and Skills)

Work environment for design engineering

The work environment consists of indoor offices and labs to develop designs. Often job tasks involve the use of a computer, so you can expect to spend most of your day sitting at a desk. A design engineer is likely to work with a team of engineers in a company or engineering firm of any size. Collaboration is an important aspect of design engineering. This work also relies on testing and identifying issues you can solve, which can be tedious but problem-solving can be creative and a rewarding process.

Here are some examples of places where design engineers can find work:

  • Computer hardware companies

  • Aeronautical and aerospace firms

  • Pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies

  • Automotive parts companies

  • Electronics and consumer goods industries

  • Shipbuilding manufacturers

  • Home goods manufacturers

  • Research institutions

  • Power and utility companies

Related: What Does a Production Engineer Do? (With Primary Duties)

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

Explore more articles