From Engineering to Design

Earlier this year when I was having interviews with different companies, they always asked me why I changed from engineering to design, what it’s like to be a designer with an engineering background, and asked if there is any advantage or disadvantage. This is the kind of question that I kept asking myself over the course of my study. I want to talk a little bit about my stories, the challenges I faced during this transition, and hopefully I could inspire people who are thinking about studying design or pursuing a career in design.

When I was studying engineering in college, we learned a lot about the math, science and programming behind electrical engineering, and also how to come up with solutions for different technical challenges. But shortly after freshman year I realized that I was more intrigued by how people actually use the technologies. I started to ask myself how I can use the things I learn to bring something fun and accessible to people. It’s the interaction and the emotional connections between people and technology that fascinate me. I believe that design can open up new possibilities for me to explore, and help me think more creatively about technologies.

Studying design at first was tough; it’s a total change of mindset, from convergent thinking to divergent thinking, from solving problems to asking questions. Convergent thinking is about using your expertise to find the right answer, which is great for dealing with technical challenges. But for design problems, we use divergent thinking first. We gather information about the defined problems and explore many possible solutions. There’s no correct solution; it’s about generate as many creative ideas as possible, and then synthesize the information into potential solutions. This is the difference between the thinking between engineering and design. As for the difference between making, engineers are good at creating things that function well, while designers make things look functioning, and persuade people that it will work. It’s more about selling the ideas and creating something that people will enjoy using.

Designer for me is like the balance between scientist and artist, we have to understand the analytical approach during the design process in order to deliver our solutions, but also we have to think conceptually like an artist to ask questions and challenge the status quo. As a designer with an engineering background, I feel very comfortable in the implementation stage, trying out different tools at hand and quickly prototyping ideas. But I struggle a lot during the ideation stage, I usually have to do more research or consult with others in order to come up with some good concepts. Fortunately a lot of the classes at CCA foster creative thinking and helped open my mind.

With the understanding of what I can do as a designer, I now consider myself as an interaction designer who is familiar with the design process, comfortable dealing with technical challenges, and proficient in both screen-based and tangible user interface design. I believe that people from different backgrounds who come to design will always find themselves being good at certain aspect of design, and integrating their skills into their design works. So if you are thinking about studying design, go for it and keep learning. You will be surprised that everything you learned before could somehow be useful in the creative process!