How To Hire a Product Design Engineer: Top 3 Considerations for Your Business

product design & engineering services

This post covers three essential considerations for hiring a product design engineer for your business. A skillful product design engineer combines art, science, and business into their creation. It is not merely about making the perfect product but a profitable one to ensure the company’s future. Hiring the right product designer can be challenging, as the product designer engineer’s expertise helps determine whether the final product is positively received and stands strong among the competitors. The following considerations will help you find a product designer who shares your design visions and fits into the company culture.

RELATED: How to find an electronic design company for outsourcing new product engineering

3 Top considerations for hiring a product design engineer for your business

1. Clear project brief

The first step is preparing a comprehensive job description to help narrow the search for the right candidate. A clear scope of work and the budget range should lead to a precise shortlist filled only with candidates best suited to the project. Crucial information to include in the project brief:

  • Job title: be as specific as possible about the title but try to use the standard terminology. For example, if you want someone to design an electronic product, mention the word in the job title. You want to avoid hiring a packaging designer to build a new product.
  • Job Summary: there should be general information about your company/business and whether the position is for a part-time or full-time job.
  • Location: your business office is only sometimes the exact location of the work site. Tell the candidates where they will be working. If the project allows them to work remotely, your pool of potential hires will widen significantly.
  • Responsibilities: it is the field where you list what you expect from the candidates if they get hired. In addition to general professionalism, such as punctuality and working hours, specify the day-to-day tasks associated with the project. If you want to hire a freelance product design engineer for a project, mention the timeline and deliverables. When looking for a full-time employee, you can explain the typical projects they will handle in the immediate future at the job.
  • Job requirements: state the qualifications you expect from the candidates. The list may include education, field experience, and soft and hard skills.
  • Benefits: specify the compensation range and additional benefits, including medical insurance and vacation.

RELATED: Top 9 design engineering tips for reducing manufacturing costs on new product designs & prototypes

When hiring a freelance product design engineer or part-time employee, mention the budget range for the design development. Every project has challenges, and describing the existing problems improves your chances of attracting suitable candidates. For example, you can include the following specifications in the job description:

  • Waterproofed enclosure
  • Internal mechanisms (moving parts)
  • Budget constraints
  • Small dimension
  • 3D printed components
  • Compatibility with existing products

A short explanation of the challenges should inform candidates about the project’s complexity. While there might be some details about the product you cannot disclose at the moment of hiring, you have to make the explanation as straightforward as possible without revealing anything confidential.

RELATED: How to improve a new product’s timeline to market in the engineering development process

2. Design skills

A job description is an effective screening tool, leaving you only with candidates who are a good fit for the project. However, it does not mean all product concept designers are equally skilled and knowledgeable. You still have to select the best product design engineer and see how each applicant applies their problem-solving skills and experiences to a specific technical difficulty. The hiring phase is where you uncover how far their design capabilities can reach. As part of the interview process, present a design challenge for them to solve. You want to make the problem simple yet require the candidate to consider various design considerations. Here are some easy examples:

  • Waterproofed enclosure: this is a sub-system of product design with many possible answers. There are many solutions, but the most important thing is how the candidate considers the related details. For instance, an o-ring gasket can effectively prevent water from penetrating the internal mechanism of the product. Ask the candidate (product design engineer) to explain the design complexity from the added groove (for the gasket), cosmetic aspect, manufacturability, and cost. The issue concerning unevenly distributed compression around the ring and the added pressure must be elaborated too.

RELATED: Top 101 engineering and mechanical design firms in the United States

  • EMI and heat dissipation: a trade-off challenge should give an idea about how the candidate prioritizes a particular design element over another. EMI shielding and heat dissipation in an electronic device has been a complex problem, especially when a small-sized PCB is part of the equation. Ask the candidate to develop a solution, either a cost reduction with bulkier parts or easy assembly with custom components. Based on their preferable solutions, you will be able to gain insight into their approach to design.

One of the most notable design challenges was the Apple iPod, which required the product designers to develop a push mechanism battery door. Product designers must consider material selection, reliability, assembly, design for manufacturability services, and cosmetics. A design that Apple considered the most efficient would go to further development. 

Candidates with specialized backgrounds will bring unique experiences to your product development. For example, a product design engineer with expertise in consumer electronics is likely accustomed to strict scheduling and tends to simultaneously design multiple (backup) versions of the same product. On the other hand, a medical device engineer focuses on getting the first build right because product development in the industry usually only gets a few builds in many cases. Freelance product design engineers or individuals from startup companies are accustomed to working under strict budget constraints, so cost efficiency in every development phase is critical. 

RELATED: What engineering for manufacturing is and how it helps product design companies


3. Interpersonal and team skills

Design capabilities alone will be enough if the work environment requires the product design engineer to provide CAD modeling services and failure analysis on a computer simulation program. However, product design engineer positions are often cross-functional, so interpersonal skills, including communication and teamwork, are just as crucial. Since the new hire will work with the existing team, you want a candidate who excels at collaborating. In the case of a full-time hire, it pays to utilize a “team exercise” method, in which the candidates play their roles in solving a made-up problem.

The process is trickier when the candidates work remotely, but it is possible with cloud-based CAD software. If the candidates are from another country, make sure there is no language barrier. You first want to see the candidate present their concepts to a panel of existing engineers and designers for a questioning session. Depending on your company culture, the questioning session can be a friendly discussion or intense scrutiny over the proposed idea. Either way, the aim is to discover the candidates’ depth of understanding, and thoughtful questions should reveal more about the candidates’ design perspectives.

RELATED: Learn about machine design costs, engineering services rates & pricing for companies

A significant part of interpersonal and team skills is the willingness to take positive, negative, and constructive feedback. A good product designer sees room for further development and improvement in their work and is receptive to the perspectives of others, especially the “non-designer” views. To determine how well the candidates take criticism, pick a design from their portfolio and scrutinize it. It doesn’t always have to be a mistake in the design; any less-optimized aspect of the product will do, for example, the ergonomics (which has everything to do with form factor) and cosmetics (an easy pick because everyone has personal preferences for the matter).

A candidate who directly goes on a defensive route after a criticism is usually a bad sign. In contrast, a good sign is when the candidate accepts the criticism with an open mind and shows appreciation before making a defensive argument. You want them to stand up for their work but compromise when someone else points out a mistake. A capable product designer should navigate the delicate balance between accepting constructive feedback and upholding their views.

RELATED: Engineering and product design advice for mass manufacturing services

Final thoughts

The perfect candidate is not always the most technically proficient. A professional with decades of experience does not come cheap, and a priority change is necessary when the budget is a concern. Hiring the brightest engineer in town is the ideal process outcome, but sometimes you have to settle with the second or third best product designer. As long as the product design engineer has good communication skills and is willing to work within the budget, they are an excellent option to consider.

How Cad Crowd can assist

If you’re looking for help with engineering or mechanical design, Cad Crowd can help. Our vetted freelancers have experience working on diverse engineering projects. Contact us today for a free quote.