What Does a Product Design Engineer Do?
Product design engineering is a field of expertise combining design and engineering principles to create functional products that people would love to use. Aptly called Product Design Engineers, professionals in this practice need an analytical mind and creativity in design thinking to succeed.
The field was born from industrial design engineering, which produces physical products. However, with the rise of digital, product design engineering has expanded to software products. Let’s look at the different types of product design engineers, the industries they work in, and the responsibilities they cover.
Types of Product Design Engineers
Product design engineers enjoy discovering how things work, finding ways to enhance products and processes, and solving complex problems. This makes their expertise in demand across industries. We might be unaware, but the products we all use daily have been in the hands of a product design engineer.
Mechanical Design Engineer
Mechanical design engineers conceptualize, prototype, and build machines. They are the brains behind the tools we use — from the small ones (like printers, disk drives, and fuel cells) to the big ones (like robots, wind turbines, and aircraft engines). Most heavily use computer-aided design (CAD) to perfect their creations. Disciplines under mechanical design engineering include automotive, robotics, and nanotechnology.
Industrial designers are involved in products we literally find everywhere. They are behind many commercial products like smartphones, soda bottles, chairs, light bulbs, and even kitchen tools. They also use CAD in creating their masterpieces. Unlike other roles in engineering, industrial designers can work in nearly all industries such as manufacturing, technology, retail, and more.
Software Design Engineer
Software design engineers conceptualize, develop, test, and assess software applications and systems in computers. There are two types of software engineers: applications engineers and systems engineers. Application design engineers create or adapt applications based on end-user requirements, while systems design engineers create, maintain, and scale computer systems. While other product design engineers use CAD, software design engineers’ work buddy is programming.
Regardless of their specialization, product design engineers are typically asked to deliver any or all these:
- Wireframes: A white and black render of product elements and features and what they are for
- Mockups: A static design of the product or process and typically use placeholder data
- Prototypes: An early sample or high-fidelity model of a designed product, process, or system
- User journey maps: A visual representation of the target users’ desired interaction with a product, process, or system
Responsibilities of a Product Design Engineer
Product design engineers work on both high-level design and granular details to get their products to the commercial space. Here’s a glimpse of what all product design engineers commonly handle day-to-day:
- Determining Requirements and Researching
Product design engineers are expected to analyze product design requirements. This entails researching the target customers’ needs and innovating the product to address those. This part is also where details like project duration, budget, staffing, and processes are outlined.
- Generating Ideas and Developing Prototypes
Product design engineers visualize and develop a working model of their product, system, or software. They must ensure that they can readily alter these models based on the assessment of their success.
- Managing Production and Process Implementation
Product design engineers deal with suppliers and internal teams to carry their products to production. They develop strategies and processes, build supply chains, and collaborate with the operations team to ensure that their products will come to life as designed.
- Evaluating Outcomes
Assessing the success of a newly created product is important for product design engineers. Every product has its own set of success metrics, but usually, they are measured in terms of appearance, functionality, safety, and overall performance. This also involves getting feedback and making adjustments based on customer reception.
Product Design Engineer Skills
Product design engineers are basically problem-solvers. They must have a range of skillset to deliver their responsibilities well. Here are some of the essential soft skills and technical proficiency they must possess:
Engineers usually work in teams, with every member bringing a different set of skills and expertise to the table. Each member’s input is necessary for exploring all possible solutions and concepts for a unique and highly functional product. As they regularly work with people outside engineering, product design engineers must have team-oriented attitudes.
- Creative Thinking
Designing prototypes and creating unique solutions require creative thinking. Creativity also plays a vital role in identifying which materials and processes would fit and work best to construct the designed solution while staying within budget and timelines.
- Interpersonal Communication
Product design engineers can communicate effectively with different people using flexible and proper communication methods. Moreover, they are required not only to interact with fellow engineering professionals, but they must also be well-articulated in communicating their ideas to people who do not have the same level of engineering expertise.
The size of an actual product and its parts, programming, and other engineering processes are born through math. Therefore, calculus, linear algebra, and statistics are valuable techniques an engineer needs to achieve positive results.
- Prototype Software Proficiency
Product design engineers must be skilled in using prototype software programs to design blueprints, 3D images of models and prototypes, wireframes, and journey maps. This is particularly critical because prototyping helps to polish products before launch and distribution. Therefore, this is an important technical skill that engineers are expected to have.
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