@Ann: I think it's correct to say that, at most companies, a "designer" is a non-degreed person or someone with an associate's degree, while a "design engineer" is someone with a four-year degree or more.
The role of a designer is similar to that of what used to be called a "draftsman," and, in some companies, the terms are interchangable (for instance, it's common to see job advertisements for a "CAD designer/draftsman"). Often, however, a designer is expected to have more mechanical knowledge than a drafter.
Typically, the work of a designer will focus on component-level detail, while a design engineer is responsible for the assembly-level "big picture."
On the other hand, there are also "industrial designers" (sometimes called "product designers"), whose work is focused on the appearance of a product, and sometimes also the user interface. This is a completely separate discipline. Industrial designers often have graduate degrees in industrial design. This field incorporates art, psychology, and all kinds of other "soft" disciplines that are completely alien to most engineers.
So, yes, I think there is a pretty clear distinction between "designers" and "design engineers," although both categories are so broad that there is a certain amount of overlap. It is definitely a mistake to use the terms interchangeably.
Dave, thanks for that distinction. Like gsmith, I've also used the terms designer and design engineer interchangeably, and in "print" as a writer, reporter, and editor. I haven't seen this distinction made before in engineering publications. This makes me wonder: is it mostly a distinction that occurs within the engineering community and/or within a company?
The writeup describes an architectural design engineer, which is only one kind. WE are many different kinds of design engineers. I have been an industrial test equipment design engineer for many years, and I would never claim to be able to do all of the building design engineers tasks at an economical speed. DEsignersare typically a bit different in that they mostly work in one discipline, electrical, mechanical, controls, or instrumentation. A lot of them are masters of the "what", but may be a bit less expert on the how and why. BUt they are valuable, and they do their jobs well. BUT they may not be engineers, and they may not have the foundation that does come from a full engineering education. ( Please note that the engineering education that I am referencing is what I got 30 years ago.) It is entirely possible that an engineering degree today means something totally different.
The other big difference is that designers typically don't do engineering, they do designing.
@gsmith120: From what I've seen, a designer is most commonly someone with either a two-year technical degree or no degree, while a design engineer is usually someone with a four-year degree or higher. The work of a designer tends to focus on part-level detail, while the design engineer is responsible for the assembly level "big picture." Of course, as you say, this varies widely from company to company and even from individual to individual.
As naperlou points out, while many designers lack the educational credentials of design engineers, they are often highly creative and have good mechanical intuition based on experience. Degreed engineers ignore the advice of non-degreed designers and technicians at their own peril.
Very interesting article, I always use the terms design engineer and designer interchangeably. When I did a lot of circuit designs I considered myself a design engineer or a designer (of electrical circuits). Guess the terms have different meanings depending on the person.
I'd like to also point out that the most effective Design Engineers are typically well-rounded, balanced individuals who have a sharp command of both technical expertise as well as good communication and creativity skills. One minute they may be called upon to solve a difficult mathematical problem and then have to quickly jump over and come up with a new and innovative approach to an old problem - all while clearly communicating to upper management and stakeholders the detailed status of where they are. 'Total' Engineers make the best Design Engineers by using their multiple skill sets in this role.
There is indeed some confusion about the difference between a design engineer and a designer. I often receive calls from companies who understandably mistake Design News for being an industrial design magazine. Sixty-six years ago, when Design News was brand new, the term "design" typically referred to design engineers. These days, it has a slightly different connotation, and that sometimes causes confusion.
I enjoyed your article. Thank you! As a kid, growing up in California, I wanted to build a safer world. I didn't end up becoming a civil engineer but I get to apply all of that curiosity and tinkering expertise in my work every day.
It's a great response to those who say "Don't designers just draw pretty pictures all day"
Abbas, I like your article on what a design engineer is. Of course, engineering fields have lots of variety, from civil to electrical. The projects may be much different. I would like to comment on the designer, though. My father was one, at an Army weapons lab. I worked with some in the aerospace industry. It was an interesting experience, one which I thourghly enjoyed. Typically the designer is an experienced draftsman. While not having the theoretical background through education, they have wide knowledge based on long experience. When I was younger (in high school) my father would ask me to solve physics problems for practice. These were related to his work, but he couldn't tell me what it was for. I really wish I could have worked directly with him. On spacecraft projects our designers were wonderful. You could sit with them for a couple of hours and describe a complex mechanisms problem. A couple of days later they would come back with drawings showing a solution or two. I guess what I liked was the interaction and give and take that resulted in an elegant solution.
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Noting that we now live in an era of “confusion and ill-conceived stuff,” Ammunition design studio founder Robert Brunner, speaking at Gigaom Roadmap, said that by adding connectivity to everything and its mother, we aren't necessarily doing ourselves any favors, with many ‘things’ just fine in their unconnected state.
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