Design Engineer

Design engineers produce designs for new or improved engineering products. They work on a very wide range of highly sophisticated products and structures, including aircraft, bridges, medical equipment and agricultural machinery, computers and telecommunications systems.

Design engineers begin each project by looking at a ‘brief’, (a set of instructions) which explains what the aim of the project is. A car manufacturer, for example, may want to increase sales of one of their cars by reducing fuel consumption or improving the look of a new model. Design engineers are responsible for making sure that the product meets the manufacturer’s needs and is safe, efficient, reliable, and is economical to produce. Before they prepare a design, engineers gather information by talking to other experts, reading engineering literature and looking at the results of test data on materials and processes.

Engineers use computer-aided design (CAD) techniques to produce a design on a visual display screen. The computer performs all the necessary calculations relating to the weight of parts and the loads they must bear. The engineer can compare possible solutions by using drawings, calculations, and physical and computer models. Engineers work on models to check and measure the way a product works, which may result in them having to modify their design.

Design engineers work in teams alongside other engineers, technicians and production staff. They may supervise and lead teams of design draughtspeople. They are also responsible for preparing regular progress reports for project managers and clients.

Aspects of their work include:

  • understanding and using physics
  • using mathematics to solve technical and scientific problems
  • learning how different machines work
  • problem-solving by seeking new ideas
  • understanding technical drawings and diagrams
  • understanding the scientific uses and properties of materials
  • planning howa project is to be carried out
  • being interested in 3-dimensional design
  • working with electricity and electronics
  • being responsible for controlling and adjusting equipment
  • keeping accurate records or reports.
Communication skills are an important part of being a design engineer because they have to communicate with the client, especially during product development. A product needs to be continually improved, so the design engineer will already be working on this, receiving specification information from the clients, dealing with various product issues, writing software, debugging the software, testing the software and resolving problems.

Personal Requirements

  • have an understanding of scientific principles and mathematical concepts
  • be patient and willing to modify designs several times until you achieve exactly the right result
  • have good communication skills and be able to work as part of a team
  • have a creative approach to problem solving
  • have a good understanding of manufacturing processes and construction skills

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course.

Each institution has its own entry requirements.

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Sciences
Recommended Subjects: Information Technology, Engineering and Technology

Note: The Engineering Faculties of some universities offer support programmes to help students to become self-sufficient and capable of completing the very demanding engineering courses. The programmes are aimed at students from communities which lack proper education facilities. Only students with good grades would be considered.

What to Study

Design engineers normally complete an appropriate engineering degree, such as in electronics. Most engineering courses involve some element of design work. Most practical experience is obtained from training-on-the-job.

Degree: The 4-year BEng degree in Electronic Engineering can be followed at RU, UP, UKZN, US, UJ, UZ, Wits and NWU. Theoretical lectures are supplemented by tutorial classes and practical sessions that mostly take place in the laboratory.

Diploma: A 3-year N.Dip. Electronic Engineering can be obtained at a university of technology, e.g. DUT and VUT. These universities of technology now offer a degree in Engineering in collaboration with universities. The course is a minimum of 4 years’ study.

Depending on their level of entry, design engineers can gain Chartered Engineer or Associate Engineer status. These professional titles can be applied for after first obtaining a degree, diploma or certificate accredited by Engineers Ireland, and following this with 3 or 4 years experience in the workplace.


  • business and industry
  • financial institutions
  • companies that do product development such as Armscor and the CSIR

Further Information

Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) 
1st Floor, Waterview Corner Building
2 Ernest Oppenheimer Avenue
Bruma Lake Office Park, Bruma
Johannesburg, 2198 
Tel: (011) 607-9500

South African Institute of Electrical Engineers
18a Gill Street
South Africa 
Tel: (011) 487-3003

Getting Started

  • arrange visits to various electrical and electronic companies and to speak to a design engineer about this type of career
  • try to obtain vacation work as an assistant to a design engineer

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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