Does Product Design Not Mean Industrial Design Now?

Bit of a rant…
I’ve noticed in the last year or two that the term “Product Designer” seems to be being used more to describe a designer responsible for the UX/UI of a project (app or website) versus an Industrial Designer.

This really hit me today as I had a ID candidate (fresh out of school with a Masters in ID) say to me that she was… “glad she talked me because she was told we are looking for a Product Designer, when in reality we are looking for an Industrial Designer.”

I design actual physical products, not virtual products so I feel as though the term is the correct one for my industry. A search on Indeed, or Monster shows that may not be the case.


This is a tough issue and it a lot bigger than the Industrial/Product Design issue. People often combine UX and UI and that’s not always the case. I think as digital design continues to grow we will see more and more “Product Design” positions that should actually be titled “Digital Product Design” but I guess who are we to claim the title :laughing: . I think in general we just need to be careful with wordage.

Product design has always been a bad term. In the 90s I consulted with several companies who’s NPD based MEs were (and still are) called product designers while their in house industrial designers were called… industrial designers. UX/UI designers who are more focused on the actual core offering in a digital service have been called product designers since the mid 2000’s… basically the term product design stretched to sometimes mean anything from mechanical engineering, to industrial design, to digital interaction. The term product itself has been overly stretched. Go to your financial advisor and they will have plenty of financial products to sell you (stocks, bonds, and mutual funds).

I never understood some industrial designers aversion to the term industrial design. It is a much more defensible and unique tittle.

Product designer makes sense in the context it’s used when you look at what the product is.

Spotify will hire product designers, even though their “product” is software. In the UI/UX world Product Design typically has it’s own connotation as a more generalist UI design role.

I’ve always found in the Product Design term was more common in Europe where a lot of courses were under the major of Product Design/Product Development compared to Industrial Design.

Either way, no reason you can’t do multiple searches to try and highlight what you’re looking for. The job requirements should make it clear what they are looking for whether it is a UX or ID role.

It’s interesting that these terms can be interpreted completely differently depending on whether one party is in or out of the design community. Inside I have found “product design” to overwhelmingly refer to UI/UX these days. When I’m explaining what I do to someone outside the community, though, I often use “product design.” In casual conversation it’s more straightforward and a better descriptor than “industrial design,” which is almost always misinterpreted as something akin to designing factories. In fact, if you asked her, my grandmother would still tell you I’m an industrial engineer. She only ever hears the word “industrial” and associates that with engineering. Neither “industrial” nor “product” seems to be the perfect descriptor.

Mike, now your asking people to read the job description? :laughing:

Happened to a friend of mine the other day. He applied for a “product designer” role at a large company, didn’t read the job description, asked me for a recommendation because I knew people there. After looking at the actual job description it was actually a mechanical engineering / CAD jockey job. At this company the industrial designers are called “creative designers”… and I thought all designers creative?

Although I generally agree, I will say when talking to “non-design people” they will often say “Oh, so you design things like pipes?” and then I begin the explanation.

Yep, I use industrial designer internally all the time, but anyone I’ve talked outside the biz thinks I design assembly lines when I say “Industrial Design”. Also being from Detroit I usually have to add… “you know like the guys who draw concept cars, only I draw products you have in your home.”

In addition, being in the Detroit area, anything thing that reads “Designer” always means CAD guy.

That just seems intentionally confusing.

Job description is our everything.
Funny how “Industrial designer” seemes to be used as a euphemism for “Product designer”. I understand it when they use “Customer manager” instead of “salesperson”, but it’s different.

I never thought of “Product designer” as a disagreeable or offensive term. The terms were interchangeable until the last 5 years or so, as "product design(er) has been stretched and appropriated by non-manufacturing (software) and non-designers.

Industrial Designer is not a euphemism. I believe it predates product design by quite a bit. The Practical Draughtsman’s Book of Industrial Design by Jacques-Eugène Armengaud was printed in 1853… according to Wikipedia: Industrial design - Wikipedia

also, reference this discussion on the topic dating back to 2007: Difference between Product Design and Industrial Design

It appears my views on it have flipped since '07 :laughing:

I think there was one before that but I can’t find it.

I agree that Industrial Designer is a good and more specific term for what we do (at least to people in the realm of physical product design), but I personally chose the title of “Senior Product Designer” (with my boss’s blessing, of course) because I do spend a considerable portion of my time on tasks usually associated with Mechanical Engineers / Design Engineers. So in my case I am embracing the broadness and ambiguity of the title Product Designer, but for most traditional ID roles I would expect Industrial Designer to be on the job posting.

I flipped through a pretty good overview of the history/evolution of the general “interface designer” terms and job titles (props to Funsize, Austin TX) - and came away with the interpretation of ‘product designer’ as one having ability to create an entire interactive ‘product’, from the architecture to visual to interaction behavior and maybe some coding. So yes, the ‘generalist’ title is applicable in this case. The definition of what constitutes a ‘product’ can be a little fuzzy to me tho.