How to Become a Product Design Engineer

How to Become a Product Design Engineer

Ever looked at a brilliantly designed product, like a cutting-edge kitchen gadget, a self-cleaning water bottle, or an interactive digital art frame, and thought, ‘I could’ve created that’?

You realize these products don’t just function well—they blend form and functionality seamlessly to solve real problems with style and efficiency. They spark fascination and interest in how they are created.

However, your enthusiasm may dim when you face daunting roadblocks, like not knowing where to start, what skills are essential, and how to break into the competitive field of product design engineering. 

If you’re looking to build a career in product design engineering, this article will detail the role of a product design engineer, including their job responsibilities and required skills.

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What’s a Product Design Engineer?

A product design engineer conceptualizes, designs, and develops new products by combining technical expertise with creative problem-solving. Their work directly impacts the innovation and functionality of products in various industries.

Product designers generate ideas based on market research and user needs, create comprehensive designs and prototypes using computer-aided design (CAD) software, and conduct engineering analyses, such as finite element analysis (FEA) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD), to ensure the product meets industry specifications and standards.

In addition to their technical and creative responsibilities, product design engineers collaborate closely with other departments, such as marketing, graphic design, manufacturing, and supply chain management, to ensure efficient production and market readiness.

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The Role of a Product Design Manager

While a product design engineer focuses on the technical and detailed aspects of designing and building products, a product design manager oversees the entire process. They will be involved from start to finish and may even partake in some technical aspects, such as creating design specifications.

Product designers and engineers thoroughly understand the company’s products, customer requirements, and production costs. They guide the agile design process and ensure the team aligns with the business objectives.

A product design manager is responsible for various day-to-day tasks, including:

  • Leading and collaborating with a team of designers and engineers to integrate relevant features and functionalities for a functional and aesthetically pleasing end product 
  • Creating 3D and 2D models, designs, assemblies, drawings, Bills of Materials (BoMs), and customer conceptual design packages, especially in a manufacturing process
  • Mentoring and training junior designers to develop their skills, fostering a collaborative environment, and ensuring the team’s growth and development
  • Performing engineering calculations and simulations to ensure product functionality and durability
  • An industrial designer develops and maintains design standards and guidelines for consistency across products
  • Analyzing and resolving design-related issues throughout the product development process by following the engineering principles
  • Conducting usability testing and gathering user feedback to refine and improve product designs
  • Performing Finite Element Analysis (FEA) to ensure design integrity
  • Maintaining and updating technical documentation and design files
  • Ensuring compliance with safety, quality, and regulatory standards
  • A product engineer and manager also designs project timelines, budgets, and resources 
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Skills Required for a Product Design Manager: What Aspiring Product Designers Can Learn

Navigating the path to becoming a top-tier product design manager requires a rich mix of in-demand skills, from understanding market dynamics and nurturing adaptability to mastering data analysis and fostering team leadership.

Let’s explore the five necessary skills you must cultivate for a long-term and successful career in product design engineering.

1. Strategic thinking

Can you envision the immediate steps for a product and develop a comprehensive, long-term vision that guides its innovation?

At the heart of product design engineering lies your ability to create products that meet current market demands and align with the company’s long-term goals and strategic vision.

That means every feature built and update released must contribute to the product’s objective. To cultivate strategic thinking, conduct a series of SWOT analyses, combining analytical and critical thinking with inductive and deductive logic.

This approach pushes you to understand the product’s mission, its place in the market, and how it can evolve to meet users’ changing needs.

Opt for free Product School’s Product Strategy Micro-Certification (PSC)™️ to learn how to define a product design roadmap, set OKRs, and communicate the plan to stakeholders for better brand alignment.

2. Data analysis

In the age of Big Data, the ability to analyze and draw insights from data sets is critical. As a product design manager, you must be adept at turning vast amounts of user interactions, performance metrics, and market data into actionable insights.

You must be able to identify and monitor KPIs and metrics, set up and interpret A/B tests, and use analytics tools like Google Analytics to monitor user behavior. 

To enhance your data analysis skills, consider enrolling in online courses focusing on essential tools and techniques, including SQL, Python, and Excel.

Consider learning software like Tableau or Power BI to create meaningful data visualizations that can help communicate insights to your team members and stakeholders. These tools will also equip you to base your design refinements on solid data rather than intuition.

Participate in hackathons to apply data analysis in real-world scenarios and observe how other professionals creatively tackle complex problems using their practical experience. 

3. Team leadership

Even if you have a robust product design strategy, as a product designer, you must be able to motivate, support, and drive your team towards the common goal. Strong team leadership involves communicating the project and how each team member contributes to achieving it.

Use ClickUp Product Management Software to define roles, responsibilities, and expected outcomes for each task and track progress. By clearly outlining their responsibilities within the ClickUp platform, you can empower your team members to take ownership of their work. 

Recognize their achievements using ClickUp’s built-in goal-setting and tracking templates and performance metrics to help them stay engaged and motivated.

ClickUp lets you easily map your product vision, align your team, and accelerate the product’s go-to-market launch.

ClickUp Product Management Software
Visualize your entire product lifecycle with ClickUp Product Management Software

Use the ClickUp New Product Development Template to accelerate product design projects. It organizes the entire design process, from concept to launch. 

For example, the ClickUp Gantt Chart View feature helps you track task dependencies and deadlines.

With this template, you can neatly organize all product design tasks into four statuses—Blocked, Completed, In Progress, and To Do.

Keep track of different project milestones and deliverables with the ClickUp New Product Development Template

Use product management templates to store information on specific action items related to your product and find it easily. 

From a successful launch to new iterations, bug tracking, and customer feedback, these pre-built product launch templates are used by forward-thinking product managers to make serious progress. 

4. Negotiation and conflict resolution

A day in the life of a product manager isn’t free from dealing with differing opinions and interests. In fact, in collaborative environments, conflict is inevitable.

A key skill a successful product design engineer requires is the ability to resolve team conflicts constructively and deal with stakeholders, including team members, external partners, and the leadership.

You must diplomatically justify resources, timelines, and priorities while articulating a design vision.

How to ace the valuable skills of negotiation and conflict resolution?

  • Sign up for workshops aiming to improve your analytical and interpersonal skills so you can change the narrative and move towards collaboration with ease
  • Read books on negotiation, such as Getting to Yes by Fisher and Ury 
  • Learn to stay calm during conflicts and practice deep breathing and mindfulness

5. Creative problem-solving

Product design engineering solves problems, from user pain points to technical challenges, such as ensuring optimal resource allocation. However, exceptional product design managers’ creative approach to problem-solving sets them apart.

They think outside the box and apply an analytical mindset to devise effective solutions. 

Learn to apply specific frameworks, such as the Five Whys or the Six Thinking Hats, to solve problems more creatively.

For example, the Five Whys method can help identify the fundamental reasons behind a design flaw, while applying the Six Thinking Hats can foster creative solutions by encouraging diverse viewpoints within the product design team.

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How to Become a Product Design Engineer or Product Designer

Here’s a step-by-step approach for aspiring product designers embarking on this career path:

1. Establish a strong educational foundation

The first step in becoming a successful product design engineer is establishing a strong educational foundation. 

A bachelor’s degree in manufacturing, industrial design, mechanical engineering, product fundamentals of electrical systems, or a related field is typically necessary. Courses in material science, computer-aided design, and product development will provide the technical skills required for this role.

Since product design engineering generally encompasses many industries, your specific interests and career goals can determine your major. 

For example, a degree in software engineering may be the best fit for developing software products.

Similarly, you can further specialize by pursuing a master’s degree focused on a specific aspect of design engineering or Agile product development. For instance, if you’re interested in sustainable design, you can pursue a master’s in environmental engineering.

A master’s degree can open doors to niche fields and make you a more attractive candidate for specific roles within the industry. It can also help you climb the career ladder faster, qualifying you for senior-level positions and enabling you to seek a higher product design engineer salary.

Most companies prefer job candidates with practical experience or a strong portfolio with the type of products they work with.

If you’re just starting as a product design engineer or aiming to gain entry-level positions, start by interning at different companies to get hands-on experience.

A bonus: You’ll also get the opportunity to learn directly from seasoned professionals and work on industry-standard tools. 

For example, secure an internship at a company like Apple or Dyson to experience product development in the tech or consumer goods sector. 

Work on a cooperative education placement at a car manufacturer like Tesla to gain insights into automotive design and engineering.

Research and apply through their official career portals or leverage networking opportunities through professional associations and university career services.

Internships can also convert into job offers, enabling you to expand your professional network from the start. 

The ClickUp Job Search Template can make your job hunt more organized and efficient, ensuring you stay on top of all opportunities and requirements. 

You can create different lists for companies you’re interested in, currently interviewing for, and companies you’ve applied to.

Stay on track with your job search using the ClickUp Job Search Template

Track each application’s progress, set follow-up reminders, and manage tasks related to preparing for interviews, updating your resume, and networking.

With customizable fields, you can also add notes about each company’s interview process, including the common product manager interview questions, key contacts, and feedback received. This ensures you have all the necessary information during your job search.

3. Never stop upgrading your technical skill set

Product design continuously evolves with emerging technologies, making it critical to continually work on technical skills that can be applied in a work setting.

For example, understanding manufacturing processes and materials science is essential, as these factors influence design decisions. On the other hand, skills in 3D printing and prototyping technologies can be valuable if you want to elevate graphic design to the next level.

Tips for product designers to upskill themselves: 

  • Complete boot camps every year to address knowledge gaps 
  • Sign up for self-paced or master classes on Udemy, Coursera, or sites like Maven with product courses by industry experts

4. Build your portfolio to showcase your capabilities

Regardless of your industry, having a portfolio is essential as a product design engineer to showcase your breadth of experience and ability to apply design thinking across different contexts.

Ideally, your portfolio should include various projects, from personal assignments to freelance or voluntary work. 

Use the ClickUp Design Portfolio Template to showcase your professional portfolio and build trust with potential clients. 

Whether you work as a freelancer or in a team, this customizable template lets you input critical details such as deliverables, timelines, and team members and share progress reports with stakeholders in real-time. 

ClickUp’s Design Portfolio Template makes it easier than ever to create a professional portfolio that stands out from the crowd

Tips to build a product design portfolio: 

  • If you’re looking for an internship, include design projects done as a part of coursework 
  • As an experienced product designer, include your portfolio with new projects and case studies highlighting the growth and the impact of your work—ideal for specialized consulting and freelance opportunities 
  • Showcase your portfolio on your website with deals about your projects, pain points, testimonials, and outcomes—add multimedia elements such as videos, prototypes, and graphics to make it more engaging

5. Make time for professional certifications and networking gigs

While most entry-level jobs don’t require licensure, it could benefit career advancement. Consider obtaining professional certifications such as Certified SolidWorks Professional (CSWP) or credentials specific to other CAD software.

For instance, earn a Certified SolidWorks Associate (CSWA) certification to boost your resume and show proficiency in industry-standard product design software.

Join professional associations like the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) or The Institution of Engineering Designers (IED) to network with other designers, stay informed about industry trends, and find job opportunities.

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Overcoming Challenges While Entering Product Design Engineering

Entering the field of product design engineering comes with several unique roadblocks that can hinder progress, even for the most enthusiastic and skilled individuals, including: 

1. Interdisciplinary complexity

Product design engineering demands expertise in various domains, such as design, engineering, user interface/user experience (UI/UX), and market trends. Although maneuvering through these areas can be overwhelming, it’s essential for creating successful products.

Self-paced courses and design certifications discussed above help you build strong foundational knowledge. 

Additionally, seek mentorship from experienced professionals with a broader skill set and can guide the integration of these disciplines.

2. Resource and tool accessibility

Access to high-quality product design tools and resources can be a barrier if you’re operating in under-resourced environments or are new to this field. 

Leverage open-source software and online platforms such as:

  • Krita for digital products painting and illustration
  • FreeCAD, a parametric 3D modeler, for engineering purposes
  • Pencil Project, an open-source GUI prototyping tool for creating mockups and wireframes

Networking can also open doors to shared resources and labs. Crowdfunding or joining maker spaces can provide access to more expensive equipment or tools—for example, Adobe Creative Suite, which comes with a hefty price tag.

3. Balancing innovation and feasibility

Just because there’s an idea in your head doesn’t mean it will automatically translate into a successful project or design. As a product design engineer, you must balance innovation with the practical aspects of production and market viability. 

This mindset, however, can stifle creativity. A smart way to avoid it is to develop low-fidelity prototypes to test and iterate on your ideas. Use AI tools for design or 3D printing to create physical and virtual models of the products you have in mind.

Regular feedback loops with potential users and stakeholders can provide valuable insights, ensuring your idea remains grounded in reality and aligns with user needs and market demands.

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Benefits of Being a Product Design Engineer

The following benefits highlight the rewarding nature of the product design engineering career and can serve as motivation for aspiring professionals:

1. Creatively satisfying

Product design engineering combines technical expertise with creativity. Imagine the thrill of conceiving and developing products from scratch, each project a unique challenge—be it a life-saving medical device or the latest consumer gadget.

Seeing your visionary designs come to life and become integral parts of people’s daily lives can be highly satisfying.

2. Financially rewarding

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for product design engineers is projected to grow by 2% through 2032.

While it may seem slower than the average growth rate for other occupations, the median product design engineer salary is notably high—$164,639 per year in the US—reflecting the specialized skills and expertise required in this field.

Additionally, you have the flexibility to work in a wide range of industries such as software, automotive, electronics, consumer goods, and healthcare—each offering unique financial opportunities and potential for lucrative career paths.

3. Prototyping and iteration

The prototyping phase is one of the most exciting parts of being a product design engineer. You get to create physical prototypes of your designs, test them, and iterate based on feedback. 

This hands-on approach lets you see your ideas take shape and refine them until they’re ready for production, providing a strong sense of accomplishment.

4. Impact on company success

Your role directly contributes to a company’s commercial success. Well-designed products can differentiate a brand in a crowded market, drive sales, and boost customer loyalty. 

Knowing that your work has a massive impact on the business’s bottom line and reputation can be incredibly motivating and rewarding.

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The Best Product Designers Combine Creativity and Functionality to Transform Lives

The world needs problem solvers, and the job market highly values individuals who can identify issues and develop effective solutions. As a product design engineer, you can meet this demand and shape the world with your innovative designs.

The path may be challenging, but success in this area is possible with dedication and hard work. Developing a wide range of skills, including technical know-how, soft skills like communication, and business acumen, will help you become a fantastic product design engineer.

In addition, it’s essential to become comfortable using an integrated tool like ClickUp to manage your team’s big ideas, communications, tasks, and designs in one centralized place without the heavy admin burden or manual handoffs.

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