How are Industrial Design and Product Design related?

How are Industrial Design and Product Design related?

  • #1) Product Design is a subset of Industrial Design
  • #2) Industrial Design is a subset of Product Design
  • #3) Product Design is the evolutionary genesis of Industrial Design
  • #4) Product Design is synonymous with Industrial Design

0 voters

What is the relationship between Product Design and Industrial Design? Are they the same? Is one subordinate to the other? Are they a progression of the same profession?

I’m curious to find out where designers who visit Core77 place Product Design vs Industrial Design. Reply with your comments: Is it #1, #2, #3, #4? Or, suggest your own relationship and, preferably, cite with a link to others who believe as you believe.

#1) Product Design is a subset of Industrial Design, as suggested by the host of

A sub-field of Industrial Design, Product Design is a field that uses various processes to develop physical solutions to specific needs. Products might make use of electronics but are not required to. They may be mass produced, custom-made, or customized. Industrial Design is the field of developing physical solutions to meet a particular need. These physical solutions might include products, vehicles, machinery, and even environments.

#2) Industrial Design is a subset of Product Design, as suggested by a course at the Sloan School of Management at MIT:
Product Design and Development is a project-based course that covers modern tools and methods for product design and development. The cornerstone is a project in which teams of management, engineering, and industrial design students conceive, design and prototype a physical product. Class sessions are conducted in workshop mode and employ cases and hands-on exercises to reinforce the key ideas. Topics include identifying customer needs, concept generation, product architecture, industrial design, and design-for-manufacturing.

#3) Product Design is the evolutionary genesis of Industrial Design, as suggested by Wikipedia: Product design - Wikipedia

Product Design is defined as the idea generation, concept development, testing and manufacturing or implementation of a physical object or service. It is possibly the evolution of former discipline name - Industrial Design. Product Designers conceptualise and evaluate ideas, making them tangible through products. Designers deal with aspects of technology, ergonomics, usability, human factors, material technology and qualities. Industrial Design is an applied art whereby the aesthetics and usability of products may be improved. Design aspects specified by the industrial designer may include the overall shape of the object, the location of details with respect to one another, colors, texture, sounds, and aspects concerning the use of the product ergonomics.

#4) Product Design is synonymous with Industrial Design, (but not packaging or automotive design) as suggested by the British Design Council:
Product design is an integral part of the wider process of developing new products, of every type; in most cases, for volume production. The product design process should ideally dovetail with every part of the wider development process, but is typically much more involved at the beginning than at the end. The process of product design can have a wide remit. It typically involves a series of different phases [brief, research strategic enquiry, idea generation, concept design, concept development, design development, etc.], each one of which helps to build certainty and understanding as the focus of work narrows, thereby informing a wider decision process.

I would say it’s #1. In my interpretation of the term, product design entails just that – design of a physical product as a solution to a problem. I’d say this encompasses things from small hand tools and doohickeys, maybe up to limited transportation design. It’s hard to classify a battleship as a “product”, and even more difficult to do so for (eg) a museum exhibit. However, both of those are designed solutions to a problem.

Industrial design has, IMO, a far wider scope than just product design. As stated, it could incorporate environments, extensive mechanical design, and so on…ID would include the battleship, the museum exhibit, and the airliner’s interior, while PD seems more limited. Product design, exhibit design, “interior” design (I prefer the term environment design), even graphic design – to me they’re all subsets of Industrial Design. Based on this, I think that my interpretation of ID is what used to be called “applied arts”, but combined with little bits of ergonomics, human interface, perception, economics, physics and mechanical design…

Perhaps it’s just a result of the common definition of “product”, but that’s the way it always seemed to me.


product design, imho, means that the final good is sold and marketed. It is also the design of a complete entity…

for instance, an mp3 player would be product design…as would a toaster, a sofa, computer, desk…phone…etc

however, the design of an overhead storage locker for boeing’s new plane would NOT be product design. I or an organization can’t go out and buy it. Much military design falls into this category too, as well as exhibits, interface, concepts, strategies, etc … so there is a lot of work industrial designers do that would not be considered product design.

that being said, all product design is industrial design. it is in fact a subset of ID, as ID covers a very large scope and product design (not to be confused with product development) is much more specific.


#2 is the closest, but not exactly as MIT described.

Take a look at job listings for ‘product design’ and see how many results come back with the ‘products’ in question being facets of websites, programs, and essentially the elements that a company sells or promotes. For example, the photo site Flickr is a product created by Yahoo!. Industrial design techniques, and industrial designers may have been involved in the product design cycle of Flickr, but again, maybe not. In it’s strictest corporate interpretation, industrial design is the application of aesthetic and usability criteria, predominantly the physical aspects of those, to a manufactured item. In this light the two terms have essentially a parallel, rather than hierarchical, relationship.

After eight years in the business I still refer to myself as an ‘industrial designer’, or better yet, ‘designer’, and not a product designer.

So far the poll has 10 respondents. We could use MORE! And the results?..

50% say that Product Design is a subset of ID. 30% say that ID is a subset of Product Design. And 20% say that they’re the same. No one voted for option #3, which is that Product Design evolved from ID.

This is one of those endless quibbles that has been discussed to death. In the end it doesn’t really matter since the general public (and really most people involved with product development) wouldn’t know the difference… and neither do we it turns out… its fun to discuss though.

Adding to my “endless quibbles” just gets me closer to the FIVE BIG STARS like you have, yo! Somebody ask David Kelley, as he’s connected with the ‘Product Design’ program at Stanford, and runs an industrial design firm. Or something.

Industrial Design is dead.

you know I love the endless quibbles, Slippy :wink: That’s what sucks you in! I’m with you though, I just prefer designer. The product designer thing gets wacky because some places call their ME’s “Product Designer”… not sure why. It’s all about mindless commentary and editorializing.

Okay, let’s try this.

You graduate with a Product Design concentration within an Industrial Design program. Your teachers instruct you in CAD drawing and rendering, sketching, model making, color theory, human factors, materials technology and user group testing.

#1) You apply at a firm where Product Design is practiced expansively under the VP of Engineering. The VP asks about your experience in CAD drawing, sketching, model making, human factors and materials technology, then goes on to ask about your skills in:
value engineering, quality function deployment, design for assembly, design for productibility and manufacturability, design for variety and supply chain, design for life-cycle quality, concurrent engineering, global supply chain, robust product architecture, product development risk management and designing to ISO 9000 specifications.
Do you feel prepared for this view of Product Design?

#2) You apply at a firm where Product Design is practiced expansively under the VP of Marketing. The VP asks about your experience in CAD rendering, sketching, model making, color theory and user group testing, then goes on to ask about your skills in:
market-focused culture, customer and competitor analysis, value delivery, channel management, building and managing brand equity, impact of emotional experience, pricing strategy and analysis, merchandising products for large-scale retailers, supply chain governance, online procurement, experience design and e-commerce.
Do you feel prepared for this view of Product Design?

Almost all of the above terms were pulled either from courses or research in product design and marketing from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. So these terms may be utilized by the managers who hire you.


I think that product design refers more to the entire product design development process whereas industrial design refers more to product styling.

Prepared with “Skills”? No. “Interest” or “familiarity with”? Yes. There are other people within organizations of mid-large size that are better qualified for all the secondary topics you listed. For example, at my company we have several people who are full-time supply chain/procurement/haggling with vendors. I expect them to have a working understanding of ID and how it can add to the overall product, and what things ID can’t let slide. I would not expect them to know about CAD, sketching, human factors, or any of the primary topics.

Ditto for people in marketing-run companies - having to focus on pricing strategy or e-commerce would take time away from where the ID’er can add the most value to a product or service.

I’d like to graduate with a Industrial Design concentration within a Product Design program. Makes more sense given the context you laid out.

Quibbles, again.