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What is a Design Engineer?

By Lynn Baranowski - Last updated: Monday, October 27, 2014

I’ve just returned from the Engineering Design Show and it seems to me that different people have a different view over what a ‘design engineer’ is and what their role is.

We all know the word ‘engineer’ has been devalued in this country (it can mean anyone who is qualified or not, from the person who installs your satellite dish to ones who design satellites themselves) and maybe the addition of the word ‘Design’ is there to try and elevate this job to a higher level. But what’s in a name? This doesn’t mean that everyone will suddenly know what that level is.

When creating slides for my presentation at the show, one colleague who was reviewing them suggested that one rather technical diagram was too complicated for a ‘design engineer’. I disagreed, but it made me wonder what he thought a design engineer was? Was it someone who was not technical? So I canvassed opinion from other colleagues as to what they thought a design engineer was. One stated that it was someone who followed a specification to create the detail of the design. Another thought that a design engineer would come up with the concepts and architecture (and spec) for a new product.

Some people think design is just about the aesthetics of a product and ensuring that users accept the look and feel of the concept. Others think design is about the detailed engineering work that is required to make the design a reality and ensure the parts can be built, tested and used.

So what is the answer? I don’t think there is an answer, because there are so many people from different disciplines within engineering that use this common word to describe a very wide expanse of engineering skills. I got talking to two lecturers from Nottingham Trent University about their ‘Product Design’ courses – they run a BA one and a BSc one. They said the students on the BSc course can design and engineer the products, the course covers many skills a mechanical engineer would employ to make the visual design work in practice, yet this message doesn’t come across is the title of the course alone (or for the students applying for Product Design jobs whose renderings are deemed not innovative enough by someone looking for an industrial designer). Titles alone can be ambiguous! You need a specification and to read the detail.

In product development we need all these skills – the aesthetics to gain customer acceptance, conceptual thinking to create new ideas, valid architectures and specifications, and the practicality to ensure the product is made to spec, hits cost targets and is commercially viable. To me ‘Real’ engineers are people who have a degree in engineering and good understanding of the world the product has to work within. Everything we touch has had to be made and therefore someone has had to design, manufacture and test it in order to ensure it’s successful and fit for purpose!


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AuthorLynn Baranowski


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