What’s the Difference between Product Design & Industrial Design?

Difference between Product Design and Industrial Design

Guest Post by Emily Hunter

Normally, when comparing two related things, it would be the easiest course to simply look up the definitions between those things and compare that way. When it comes to product design and industrial design, it’s not so easy.

Product design means different things to different people, and the entire process can be different from product to product. Essentially, product design is all the work that comes between the initial idea of a product to the point where the customers have the product in their hands (or sometimes even further than that.)

Industrial design can be a part of product design. In fact, it can be product design all on its own. But industrial design generally applies only to industrial products. So, while a fashion designer or software developer uses product design to develop their concepts, an industrial designer only when the final product is meant to build or produce something of its own.

When talking to those not involved in technical fields, one can use industrial design and product design pretty much interchangeably. They are, in many ways, the same thing. Both do the same kind of work. In fact, product design can arguably be considered a subset of industrial design.

Since industrial design is more focused, many colleges have courses and degrees in industrial design, often offering bachelors or masters degrees in the field. Employers often look for industrial designers when they are looking to build something specific. Industrial designers often specialize in something like transportation, architecture, or something similar, further defining the nature of their jobs.

A Look at Industrial Design

Industry is the reason why people in the developed world have the standard of living they do today. Before industry, everything was a uniquely handmade object. Then came the creation of mass production, which allowed a group of people, often aided by machinery, to create large quantities of identical objects, from clothing to cars.

Of course, none of this could have happened without engineers to streamline and optimize the mass production process — industrial designers were the force behind the Industrial Revolution. More than just engineers, these designers were also artists, who found ways not only to make a great many items cheaply, but to make these items aesthetically pleasing so people would want to buy them.

Industrial designers take a useful product that serves a need, and makes it even more useful or more beautiful. They are the ones who make new models of a car, or improve the ergonomics of a chair or computer keyboard. They keep all our modern conveniences fresh and new, making them even more convenient as time goes on.

A Look at Product Design

Product design encompasses everything that is a product, including those things covered by industrial design. While it helps for an industrial designer to be an engineer in their field, there’s no such requirement for, say, a clothing designer or someone who develops food products or flatware. Today, product designers are also involved in the creation of products that have no tangible output, namely digital products like software.

The confusion between product design and industrial design tends to come in the places they overlap. Someone working to build or modify an airplane is engaging in product design, and probably in industrial design, as well. Often, there really isn’t a distinction between the two.

Product designers generally work to produce many of the daily products we use every day, but those specialised items like cars, computers, and many of the appliances we enjoy, often had the hand of an industrial designer in there, at least for part of the process.

The Difference Is…

Honestly, the distinctions don’t make a lot of difference, because both types of design have the same goal — to create or refine a product. The words used: ‘product’, ‘industrial’, and ‘design’, are all such broad terms in and of themselves, that pinning them to easy definitions is difficult, to say the least.

Product design is just about as it sounds — design of a product meant to be sold to consumers, whatever that product might be. It’s how we get new things, or new versions of things we already use. Industrial design is the exact same thing, but it more pertains to things that have a functional value, especially things that require industrialization to produce, such as vehicles, buildings, and so forth. Items developed through industrial design are not necessarily designed for the sole benefit of the user – their design goals may make things easier for the manufacturer, as well.

Emily Hunter has been writing about business topics for many years, and currently writes on behalf of the product design engineers at Pivot International.  In her spare time, she cheers for Carolina Crown, formulates her own sodas, and crushes tower defence games. Follow her on Twitter at @Emily2Zen

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