Job or passion career

To become a Mechanical Engineer or a Product Designer?

Should I become a Mechanical Engineer or a Product Designer?

Yesterday,

My mailbox got an email from Louis,
a young student in Mechanical engineering.

He feels pretty bored at school and doesn’t do well in class.
He’s so disinterested that passing his 3rd-year might be tough…

“I feel I don’t belong here”. He said.

However, about a year ago, he discovered his passion for Product design and drawing.

And he asked me if he should:

  • A: Quit his Engineering school to start a Design school
  • B: Finish his Engineering school, then get an extra degree in Design.

Being hesitant to take the designer path, he also wonders about the chances to find a job as a Designer.

One day, a mechanical engineer student from India told me there are 2 types of engineers there.

  • TYPE A: They love their job and excel
  • TYPE B: They study there because it’s the logical path…
    (They live under the pressure of: “You better be a doctor, an engineer or a lawyer”.)

I receive the same message from students from India, the USA, France, China…
Maybe there is something wrong in our modern education that may mislead the young creatives? I can’t tell.

Mechanical engineering is a wonderful discipline. But does it suit you?


The Right path

It is not easy to give personal advice on what you should do or not.
There are so many parameters coming in the pictures. (Career, family, finance, school admissions…)

But I know that our life is the sum of the decisions we take.

Louis’ story is similar to my story and maybe you too.

We went through the same difficulties struggling in studies we don’t enjoy.

So I thought I could share with you my thoughts through my real-life experience.

And if it’s relatable to you:

  • You may see clearer,
  • Feel lighter,
  • And make a positive decision for your future!
  • And become a wonderful Designer! 🙂

Money or Passion?

Remember this.

“If you want to find a position that makes money, don’t chase money.
Look for a position you love, and you’ll make the best of it (and make that money or even more).”

This message is from Snoop Dog.

It may look easy to say now. But when he started, he was a pioneer in the music industry.
Following the path of Rap was a damn daring move at that time. And he became rich.

You may like him or not, we can recognize he became one of the greatest rap influences in the world.

When you choose your studies path, and you weigh the pros and cons, make sure to look at the bigger picture.

Remember that MONEY is not the opposite of PASSION.

They work great in duet. Passion is actually your best generator of (money + happiness) if you think long-term.

How do you think Apple succeed so well?
It’s thanks to their passionate designers, especially Jonathan Ive, and the leadership of Steve Jobs.
By the way, Apple is looking for new talents to join them including:

  • Industrial designers
  • Human Interface Design
  • Communications Design

You can find them in the section of Design – Jobs at Apple

Apple vs PC
APPLE VS PC

Pursuit of Happiness

Have you watched the movie “Pursuit of Happiness” with Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith?

“Don’t ever let somebody tell you “You can’t do something. Not even me.”

Chris Gardner (Pursuit of Happiness)

It’s my favorite movie.

It’s a true story about Chris Gardner’s determination who went from single-parent homeless to a successful businessman. Life can be tough. But if you pursue what makes you happy, you’re gonna find the energy to beat the odds in your favor.

I know, some people may respond: “Oh, that’s just a movie.” “Oh, that’s an exception”. Yeah ok.
But ask yourself:

Who has the best position to write your own story?

Simply You. 🙂

When we understand this, we start to take accountability for all our good and bad decisions.
So we can keep going with a clear mind and get into that following test.


The “Pragmatic Look in the Mirror” test

Love yourself for who you are

From a pragmatic point of view. Ask yourself if:

  • Will you succeed your Engineering school?
  • If yes, will you become a qualified one, or just average or below?
  • Will your Engineer job will make you happy? How will you feel each morning you wake up to got to work?
  • At the end of your working day, will you feel trying to escape the office or would you be excited to go back the day after?
  • At work, will you feel as bored as you are now in class?
  • After x years of “career”, will you end quitting or even “give up your life” and suffer all along till your retirement day?

These questions may be tough, but if you are honest with yourself, you could feel relief after answering them.

Knowing what you want is 1 thing.
Knowing what you DON’T want has equal power.


Asking the fish to climb a tree

In my opinion, if you are a Creative person, choosing a career that is not related to YOUR PASSION is dangerous.

It’s like asking a fish to climb a tree – Like how Albert Einstein said so well.

our education system asking a fish climbing a tree Albert Einstein

No matter how fancy your future will look from your parents, friends, or other people’s eyes if your job feels meaningless to you. You may shine outside, but you might feel miserable inside.

That will affect not only your professional life but your (future) family as well.

I don’t have kids yet. But the day I will, I would like them to grow up with a dad that enjoys life!
I already see myself showing them how I like drawing, hoping they may too. 🙂

My parents immigrated from Cambodia, escaping the war in the ’70s. I grew in a happy and working-class family. Moving to France, they gave me an opportunity to thrive. That would be a pity to do not to take it.

Let’s straighten things out:

  • A/ Follow your (recently discovered) passion for Product design?
  • OR
  • B /Bbecome an average (or mediocre) Engineer?

There are risks on both sides. But the Rewards have nothing in comparison!

Since I need to choose a risk, I rather decide which one to take by myself.

Choose what you love as a living to thrive!

How about taking my passion seriously and make it a career?

I asked myself this question when I was a student.
It actually took me 4 years to really know where I wanted to go.

I spend 2 years in DUTTC (Business)
+ 1 year spent without knowing much what to do
+ 1-year Licence STIC (Multimedia)

On paper, it was great!
But in reality, I was bored.

Whenever in class I had 10/20 I was satisfied. If I got below, whatever…

I was an average student doing just ok.

However, I excelled in my internships and student yearly projects.

That’s how my hobbies, became my professional projects, and my internships!

Since I was able to choose the topics I liked and applied to companies I wanted.

Doing a website in 1999 was pretty much a badass move.

I passed and got graduated!

But, I still had no creative degrees and was still a beginner.

I told myself: How about taking my passion seriously and make it a career?

My friends were from business, IT, engineering to become nowadays bankers, engineers…

That’s cool for them.

But how about the life I want for myself?

I have different aspirations. Why should I follow them?

  • If you like Pistachio Ice cream, and you prefer Chocolate.
  • Why should you take Pistachio and eat that same flavor for life? 🍦🍦🍦🍦.
  • Some more drooling 🤤 at people eating the Chocolate ones with yummy toppings.
  • It would be such a frustration! 😣😣😣

The power of doing your own research 🧐

If you ask for advice around you, they may see you as a “clueless dreamer” and will stop you.
If you ask someone who succeeds in the domain of design, that person will encourage you to go bolder.

  • Make sure to ask for help from the right people.
  • If one day I need a lift, I won’t ask a friend who has no driving license.

It is all about common sense right?

Do the extra mile to get the info you need where they are the most accurate. Not the closest.

I did my own research. (I can tell there was not a lot at that time on the Internet).

  • I didn’t have any designer friends, family or network.
  • So I couldn’t tell about the job or career opportunities.
  • It just sounds crazy to make a living from drawing!

But I also asked myself, how the world could run without designers?!
Every single item around le (glass, table, chair, computer, phone, earphones, speakers, car, bicycles, beds, spoon, fridge, mp3 player…) must have started with a drawing.


Today we can find online crazy a lot more info from the brands, or designers themselves sharing their experience online:

It is even more obvious today that design opportunities are growing like crazy!


But looking for information online is not enough to convince myself.

  • I went to Paris to visit a design school (Creapole-ESDI)
  • And I met the director in person randomly in the corridors.
  • The best students’ projects were displayed there like an exhibition.
  • I had a chat with him and I could discuss freely. What I heard was outstanding!

The profile of a designer he described was tailor-made for me!

I tell you more below as we need to understand why Design matters.


A Designer understands that the world is Emotionally driven.

In the industrial era, the world was led by engineers. It was technology-driven.
For example, if you wanted to buy a Ford car, you had no choice than getting a black color.

“The story says that’s how Al Capone could escape from bank robberies since all the black were the same.”

We used to identify people’s needs using the “Socio-Professional Category”. Basically, if you had a certain age, married, and do a certain type of job, you would have the same needs as all your pairs.

  • Now, humans are more complex, plural, and have more advanced needs.
  • Life has become even more fascnating. You could be a banker and love music festivals.
  • We talk about tribes: How people gather around the same interests.
  • We understand that the world gets emotionally driven.
  • Instead of: “Ok we got this new machine and technology. What can we do with it?”
  • Now we look for people’s needs, we look for solutions to solve them – then we go look for solutions to create the products to answer them.
  • And if we need to develop a technology to get there, we’ll figure it out how to make it happened to better serve our people.

In case the engineer says: “Oh that’s not possible.”
The designer’s job is to challenge him, and together figure out an alternative way to push the limits of the possible.

A designer and the engineer work together.

However, to me, I am more fascinated by the designer’s role. : )


DESIGNER ROLE?

A designer has multiple hats.

Drawing, imagination, but especially empathy.

  • A good comprehension of the human is essential. If you understand the people you create for, then you are gonna make great designs that people will use.
  • Better than marketing, you will get a sociologic approach.
  • Of course, if you have some engineering knowledge, they are welcome.
  • To be a good designer, it’s not only being good at sketching but having the willingness to create a better world. (I know it may look a bit cheesy, but it’s sincere)
  • A designer will have to convince a lot of people to fight for his ideas.
  • He communicates with the marketing department, the engineers, the costing, the management… but also approach the customers, even staff in shops…

What I like about being a designer is not having a comfy seat behind a desk.
Taking initiative to defend your project is quality.

You will somehow need to learn to be your “own lawyer” haha, but an artistic one. 🙂

You got an idea? Execute and Protect it.

Tribes by interests, values…

Invest in yourself

The day I decided to leave behind my past degrees to enroll in a design school, I decided to invest in myself. To become a new version of who I wanna be.

I am pretty much introverted.
However, I knew I didn’t want to live a boring average life, but an extraordinary one!

I realized I was not only a dreamer.
But also someone with realistic goals and ambitions.

It was my duty to get the courage to decide for myself, to talk about my project to my family who supported me and to commit.

Nobody knows your limits. Even yourself.

Becoming a design student is not gonna be smooth every day. But I really enjoyed them.
There were among the best years of my life.

Competition can be rude.

Only a small % are going to join the biggest companies.
(You could also build up your own design studio!)

If you belong to the best, you shouldn’t get too much trouble finding a great position.
70 to 90% of the student become OK Students.

And I recommend you to target the top 10% of students.

It s not a punishment. It’s a motivational goal to help you go beyond your limits!

In creativity, the sky has no limit! ☁️

Since you will love studying design so much! You will be wired to overcome all obstacles.
For example, so many design schools don’t teach you how to sketch… you gotta put a lot of yourself in!

Nothing must be taken for granted.

You gotta swap your complaints with: How to solve my problem and keep up?

I can tell you the student life is gonna be a great preview of the Designer’s daily life on facing problems.

Did you get the mindset?

You are not going to study for a degree. But a bigger goal to a life welcoming problems! Haha.

If you want peace and quiet life, don’t choose the Designer’s path!

Designer = Creative problem solver

A designer = A Problem solver. 💡🔑

Like how Japanese say: “A problem is a treasure.”
(In other words, an opportunity to help people and make money!)

Sorry, I feel I am talking a lot.
But it’s a topic I feel pretty closed to.

If I had any advice to give, is to follow your heart 💪❤️.

And if you decide to bring him on the path of design, your mission is to make it love it to the max!

Why? Because once again, the best person to defend your dreams, is yourself.

I hope that will help you.

And choose well your design school, since they are all different from each other. 🙂


Bridge admission to Design schools?

TIP: For mechanical engineering students, you may have a chance to get a bridge to go directly to the 4th year of design school. One of my students from Sketch Like The Pros did apply after going through my course and got admitted! (I didn’t know that was possible before he made it.)

Another alternative could be taking Adult classes after work.

However, since Louis, you are young and I assume no kids yet, you could start at the 1st or 2nd year of school to build up your creative maturity, your style, and design mindset.


Today Louis is an average student.
Tomorrow, when he will get on the right path, he will become an ambitious student full of potential!

And you, do you believe in pursuing your passion as a career?


Hello Chou-Tac,
I have received the book, your book is greatly appreciated! I’m an Indonesian from South-East Asia, I’m a mechanical engineering student and found that sketching skills are really needed right.

I’ve been looking for various tutorials and was confused by explanations and stopped studying because my back hurts until I found your YT channel, and it was very helpful with the content what you have shared. I wish that the career I want to start, this can realize my goals. So I’m just looking forward to helpful and motivating content from you!

Once again, thank you very much!

About The Author

Chou-Tac

Hello! My name is Chou-Tac. I am a Product Designer from France. If the sketching methods I’ve acquired aid me in my life and in my industrial design career, I believe that they can also help you reach your design goal as a student or professional. My aim to help you all along with your design projects and journey. Anytime, feel free to leave a comment in the blog or send me an email at choutac@thedesignsketchbook.com : )

3 Comments

  • Anvesh

    Reply Reply September 24, 2021

    I could relate to this post quite a lot. When I was in my third year I found myself questioning myself because I could see people being passionate mechanical engineers and I did not find myself enjoying solving equations and also studying. Thermodynamics was my least favourite subject. I did not know about product design back then. I’ve been working as a mechanical design engineer for 6 years now (and I am not that bad now) but like you said in the blog, if I want to make change, I should invest in myself. I have started doing that now. It is hard to do it with the increased work pressure but this blog post reminds me that there’s no expiration date and that I’m not too old to change career paths.

  • Usamah Ibrahim

    Reply Reply September 20, 2021

    when I studied mechanical engineering, it was very difficult because of the many calculations and complicated terms. then I knew “solving problems” is cool and I want to do it, I believe that becoming a designer can be my path to a career as an engineer

    • Chou-Tac

      Reply Reply September 20, 2021

      Awesome Usamah,

      It’s such a great feeling to solve problems helping people (even if we don’t know them personally).

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