Difference between Product Design and Industrial Design

What is the difference between Product Design and Industrial Design? What is the course study at school for each? What are the different tasks in the Job? Thank you for your input.

I think… for what it’s worth… the difference is what you actually do, or what for what you’ve produced designs for. I have always thought that Product Design is a facet of Industrial Design. In that PD is on the same level with being a furniture designer, or some other name. My degree is in ID, I work with other IDer’s who design products. I think the name in more or less interchangable, and I, please see that I, wouldn’t be deterred either one way or the other… so I think it’s more semantics and language.

Which path uses what skills… that’s how you use them and what you use them for.

i guess i agree. i tell people i’m a product designer. it’s easier for them to grasp the idea. my degree is in ID. i am probably wrong, but my understanding was product designers design from conception to production. i do this in furniture.

I understand Industrial Design as a wider career.

Industrial Design has different branches of expertise:

  • Transportation Design
  • Furniture Design (as Kung Fu Jesus)
  • Environmental Design
  • Footwear Design
  • Toy Design
  • Jewelery Design
  • Product Design
  • POP Design

Maybe I’m missing some other one now.

My guess is that Product Design has the focus on appliances, electronics, tools, and a wide array of objects.

I also say I am a Product Designer just for convenience because when someone hears ID, they automatically turn you into an engineer that builds plants and factories.

To me, a Product Designer solely designs a product to produce and sale. That is all they consider.

An Industrial Designer also designs a product, but there is so much more involved. They design the product but they also design the experience that the end user gets using it that wants them to continue.

I associate more of a marketing feel to an ID’er whereas I get a more engineering feel from a PD’er

There is no difference.

Industrial Design is an old term that evolved out of Tool Design from the Industrial Revolution. Some of the very old ID programs were actually originally called Tool Design, craftsmen who drew and built prototype patterns that steel tools were cut from.

As Tool Design morphed to Industrial Design to better describe the education designers received in manufacturing processes and designing for mass production, Industrial Design is currently morphing to Product Design to better explain our knowledge of the entire product experience from research, to line building, to interaction design, to user experience.

Industrial Design, based in Industrial Revolution era thinking, implies a tie explicityly to manufacturing. Product Design makes us responsible for the entire process and is a more encompassing term.

I would have to agree with the vibe that YO is throwing down.

I have always despised the term “Industrial Design” because to the layman, it conjures images of factories and manufacturing. While “Product Design” intuitively gives people a more accurate idea of what this profession is all about- art, design, marketing, manufacturing, engineering, etc. It is, as YO says, more all-encompassing.

The best justification of the term “Industrial” Design I have heard goes like this:

Industrial refers to “Industry” and “Industry” deals with the mass production of goods. So basically, Industrial Design is the “design of goods to be mass produced.”

Although I don’t like it and you have to go through a math problem to figure it out…it does sort-of make sense.

Actually you just made the case for Industrial to be a bad fit. Not all designs are industrially mass produced. The ID process can be applied to many things, from one off furniture, to injection molded shavers, to whatever:

This is why we are evolving to product:


  1. a thing produced by labor: products of farm and factory; the product of his thought.
  2. a person or thing produced by or resulting from a process, as a natural, social, or historical one; result: He is a product of his time.
  3. the totality of goods or services that a company makes available; output: a decrease in product during the past year.

more open to cover more things.

And thanks for the props skyarrow…

nice definition, yo.

i agree with your assessment of cav’s definition, too. he’s not wrong, per se, but some items i’ve desgined have been very, very small runs of product or even one-offs as a customized customer solution.

generally, people rspond to “industrial design”, to me, as a building designer, architect, or process engineer. if i tell them “product design”, they associate it with engineering or inventing. “furniture design”, i’m associated with Norm or whatever his name is on that PBS show “the new yankee workshop” :unamused:

Well I found some stuff on the net. From what I got, product design does concept development, testing and manufacturing, implementation of physical objects. Product designers coneptualize and evaluate ideas, making them tangile through products in a more systematic approach. Aesthetics are important too.

As for Industrial design, I found some similar stuff but it basically stated its main focus was aesthetics. Also, Industrial Design is more of an art.

nice try… but not buying it.

dont believe everything you read on the internet :wink:

^^ doesnt make any sense to me.

I’d say ID and PD are pretty much interchangeable at this point, both in and out of the industry. Both refer to the design of products for functional use. Volume of production not being so relevant in my opinion as purpose. That being said, the function/object can vary from anything including play (toys) to “play” (s3x toys), and everything in between.

Im in footwear now, but previously, I used to say the following about ID-

“Architects design buildings. Industrial Designers designer everything else.”

  • pretty much covers it at least as a general response to “what is ID”. Of course engineers might take issue (re: bridge designs, motors, etc. but for the most part is pretty accurate).


this is a very classical question. Seen this a few times in different forums to come to a conclusion that it is not that important after all.
Some courses even named themselves as "industrial product design’
The differences between the 2 are narrowing that its no longer important to make any kind of disctinction here.

“Architects design buildings. Industrial Designers designer everything else.”

Thats funny Richard, I have said the same thing for years. I also agree with Yo, there is no difference today. though, PD is easier to explain.

I also believe that Furniture, electronics, footwear, Trans, Toy, and others are all products.

from what i’ve been taught the phrase ‘Industrial Designer’ was coined by doctor Christopher Dresser. He was the first person to call himself an “Industrial Designer”. He did stuff like patterns for wall coverings and light fixtures… which would actually be closer to what interior designers do today. However the term is now used as an umbrella to describe many types of designers. one of which is a consumer product designer or pd…
so yeah they are the same its like is a square a rectangle…

From what I understand (and practice), an industrial designer is someone that develops consumer products for mass-production. Otherwise, you’re an artist or prototyper. Product designer and industrial designer can pretty much be flip-flopped. Same thing, IMO.

I just get sick of people thinking I’m an engineer, although I think that term carries more respect and prestige. I don’t agree with it, but that’s how I think the general public views it.

in my opinion ,product design like a Mechanical Design .

Am I right in saying that ‘back in the day’ Industrial or Product design was called Industrial Art? And that is kinda where the name comes from, and has been developed from?.. someone told me that, I can’t remember who.

I was asked what I thought the difference was in an interview recently and I think (opinion!) that Product Design is more anthropological than industrial design.

to me product design is from market research through to production and some times even to imput to the marketing of the product. If you have not done that, or can not do that your not a product designer. Id is a step along the way to being a fully fleshed out product designer.