Every time I read a thread like this I am struck by the difference between engineering at a small company versus a large company.
In a large company, (eg D&M or Sony) there are many specialties. They have industrial design engineers that just design the plastic inserts inside the box, and other engineers that design the mechanical assembly of the headband, and still other engineers that select the material used for the foam in the cups. Young engineers come out of school and say they want to be in "design", because they think they will be inventing the next generation of products. WRONG. The initial product development is done by teams of very senior employees - product managers, product marketers & engineers. They develop the "vision" - the concept for the new product - then it is broken into all its component parts & processes and distributed across all the specialties in the company.
Now compare that to the small company - where a handful of folks do it ALL - from concept to delivery. When you work for a small company, you have to have knowledge that spans dozens of disciplines - Electrical Engineering, Materials, Manufacturing, Packaging, Quality - even Accounting & Marketing. That's why so many of the folks that are the brains behind a small boutique audio company previously worked for medium or large companies. A young new graduate getting a job at a small shop is pretty rare - it happens, but it's probably mostly because the little company is strapped for cash and can't afford to pay for experience. The founders of the successful little companies are usually veterans of larger companies.
For example, let's look at two of head-fi's favorite boutique manufacturers:
Schiit got started when two audio industry veterans decided it was time to shake things up a bit. The two audiophiles are Jason Stoddard, formerly of Sumo, and Mike Moffat, formerly of Theta. Together, they have designed dozens of audio and A/V products, from the Andromeda III to the Cobalt 307 to the DS Pre and Angstrom 200.
MrSpeakers was founded by Dan Clark, an electrical engineer who has been working in and around the high-end audio market for more than twenty years, and who has designed a number of commercial and custom loudspeaker solutions, including the highly-regarded and award winning Platinum Audio speakers from the late 1990's.