Careers

Learn About Being a Design Engineer

What does a design engineer do?

Design engineers use computer-aided design (CAD) software to develop, test and improve manufacturing processes and product designs. They often work in teams to boost the functionality of a company’s products and advance the methods by which they are made. Design engineer duties include:

  • Meeting with managers and research and development (R&D) teams to understand the parameters of design requests
  • Using CAD and Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) software to convert ideas to models and plans
  • Working with other engineers on different aspects of the same project
  • Constructing and testing prototypes and designs
  • Revising ideas as new requirements arise
  • Ensuring all plans and prototypes conform to industry standards and guidelines

Average salary

Design engineers are usually full-time employees. Their salaries depend on their education level and relevant experience. The size, type and location can also affect their earnings.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $78,305 per year
  • Some salaries range from $24,000 to $163,000 per year

Design engineer requirements

To excel as a design engineer, you should be able to meet several requirements, including:

Education

Design engineers need a bachelor’s degree in design engineering, manufacturing engineering, mechanical engineering or product design engineering technology. While obtaining their degrees, students learn about CAD software, machine design, manufacturing processes and thermodynamics. Degree programs usually require engineers to complete hands-on projects to demonstrate their understanding of engineering concepts.

Many design engineers also have master’s degrees or doctorates. Those who have undergraduate degrees in computer engineering or mathematics can obtain a master’s degree in design or manufacturing engineering to expand their job opportunities and possibly increase their earning potential. A doctorate is useful for those who are interested in research or university teaching jobs.

Training

Some of a design engineer’s training will take place while they obtain their education, whether by completing hands-on projects, in labs or during internships. A student can choose to complete an internship in their field of interest to learn more about the daily responsibilities of a design engineer. They can also make valuable network connections with professionals who can help them find a position after graduation.

Once hired, a design engineer receives training from their employer in the specific products and processes of the company. They may also learn any computer programs or software the company uses, including design or scheduling software.

Certifications

Design engineers can acquire several certifications that demonstrate their expertise in different aspects of their job. Here are some examples of certifications computer engineers might obtain:

  • AutoCAD certifications. Offered by Autodesk, AutoCAD is a type of software that many design engineers use. Earning a certification for this software demonstrates a certain level of proficiency in the program. There are three AutoCAD certifications—AutoCAD Certified User, AutoCAD Certified Professional and AutoCAD Civil 3D Certified Professional. To earn any of the certifications, design engineers must pass an online exam.

  • ASME certifications. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers offers several certifications and accreditations that could be useful for a design engineer depending on their field. Certifications include the Nuclear Component Certification, Reinforced Thermoset Plastic Corrosion-Resistant Equipment Certification and Bioprocessing Equipment Certification. To earn any ASME certification, applicants must complete an assessment determined by ASME officials.

  • Certified Associate in Engineering Management (CAEM). Offered by the American Society for Engineering Management, this certification is for entry-level engineers to establish credentials for early career technical management or supervisory assignments. It is valid for three years and holders can renew it once. No work experience is necessary for this certification, but applicants must have a degree in an engineering or computer field. A degree in mathematics, chemistry, physics or technology management is also acceptable.

  • Certified Professional in Engineering Management (CPEM). Also offered by the American Society for Engineering Management, the CPEM is for more experienced professionals who want to validate their skills and experience in technical fields. In addition to the same educational requirements as the CAEM, CPEM applicants must also submit a CV or resume documenting work experience with supervisor contact information.

Skills

Design engineers need several soft and hard skills to help them do their job well. Here are some examples:

  • Mathematical and technical skills: Design engineers work with complex CAD software to draft their products and specialized equipment to create prototypes. A thorough understanding of these tools can help a design engineer understand their raw materials, design products and processes better.

  • Creativity: Although a design engineer uses science and technology to develop their ideas, they must rely on their own creativity, ingenuity and patience to find solutions to design problems.

  • Technical skills: Expertise with AutoCAD and other drafting software is a requirement for this job. A knowledge of some manufacturing equipment will also be useful depending on the industry.

  • Analytical thinking: Design engineers constantly change small details of a prototype or a system flow that can have large impacts. Identifying problems, troubleshooting and developing and implementing solutions requires detailed analysis in each task.

  • Time management: Depending on the size of the firm that employs them, design engineers might manage one product or all the design needs of the company. Design engineers should be able to prioritize tasks, make and adhere to deadlines and create timelines for work completion.

  • Communication: A design engineer reviews ideas and requests from people in other departments—research and development, marketing, customer relations—and turns those ideas into physical reality. They must have excellent listening and processing skills to understand design requests. They must also have the capability to explain technical parameters to non-technical coworkers in clear terms.

  • Teamwork: Design engineers collaborate with other engineers, designers, floor workers, supervisors, financial experts and marketing teams to create and develop products. They must be able to delegate, accept responsibilities and share ideas with ease.

Design engineer work environment

Regardless of whether they work as part of a team for a large manufacturing operation, or are the only design engineer at a small firm, here are some similar aspects of a design engineer’s work environment:

  • Using technology to draft designs on a computer or create a prototype using a specialized tool
  • Working with a computer while sitting for extended periods of time at a desk
  • Testing products and systems in a test facility or with a testing group
  • Gaining additional education, training and information about their industry
  • Corresponding with engineers, managers, manufacturers and clients

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

How to become a design engineer

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

  1. Pursue an education. You should earn at least a bachelor’s degree to meet the minimum requirements for most design engineering positions. If you want to specialize in a certain type of design engineering, consider undergoing a master’s program. To perform research or teach design engineering to others, you will most likely need a doctoral degree.

  2. Accumulate work experience. Listing relevant work experience on your resume can show your ability to excel as a design engineer. You can gain experience through internships or volunteer opportunities. You may need to gain work experience in an entry-level role for an engineering firm or manufacturing company as a coordinator or customer service representative.

  3. Earn certifications. There are many certifications you can obtain to show your proficiency in the field. You can earn a CAD certification, engineering management certification or one that’s relevant to your engineering field.

  4. Search for 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 that summarizes the reasons you would be a good fit for the job. Consider tailoring your resume for each job so you can stand out from other candidates. Review the job posting for keywords that you can include in your application materials.

Design engineer job description sample

Cutting-edge aeronautical parts manufacturing company on Florida’s exciting Space Coast seeks creative, enthusiastic and seasoned design engineer to join our team. The position will lead a team of three design engineers who develop and test parts for defense equipment. This position will report directly to our Vice President of R&D. The qualified applicant will have a bachelor’s degree in engineering (or related field) and at least seven years of experience, or a master’s degree in engineering and five years of experience. Demonstration of expertise with AutoCAD is a requirement. FBI clearance required.

Related careers

If you are interested in design engineering, here are some related careers that might interest you: