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Product design and industrial design are often conflated, but they are distinct disciplines that play unique roles in bringing products to market. For many people, the line between these concepts is still unclear or blurred.  What are these professions and are there really differences between these two fields of design? This comprehensive guide will unpack the key differences between product design and industrial design across process, expertise, objectives, and deliverables.

Defining Product Design

Product design refers to the process of conceptualizing, prototyping, testing, and refining a product prior to manufacturing. The focus is on designing aesthetic, functional, useful, and engaging products that truly meet user needs.

Product designers seek to deeply understand the product's target users through extensive research. This includes surveys, interviews, site visits, ethnographic studies, and other tactics to gain insights into user behaviors, frustrations, contexts, and needs. With an empathy for the user established, product designers ideate and experiment with many different concepts to solve user problems. This involves rough sketches, 3D modeling, and creating interactive prototypes that can be placed in front of real users for feedback.

Through rapid prototyping and iteration, product designers refine the product experience based on usability testing and user response. The goal is to create something intuitive, ergonomic, and delightful for the end user. Product designers draw on their expertise in design thinking, human factors, user psychology, interaction design, and aesthetics to craft something that truly resonates with consumers' wants and needs.

The outputs of product designers include prototypes at varying levels of fidelity, conceptual models, journey maps, design principles, specifications, and other artifacts that capture the optimal end-to-end user experience. While engineering input is needed down the line, product designers focus on nailing the design first and foremost.


Defining Industrial Design

Industrial design deals with designing products suited for efficient, reliable, and cost-effective mass production. The focus is optimizing the product design for manufacturability. Industrial designers take a zoomed out view that considers the full manufacturing ecosystem including available processes, materials, costs, tooling, quality control needs, supply chains, and business strategy.

Extensive analysis is done by industrial designers on potential production methods, material choices, equipment requirements, costs, and supply chain factors. This deep dive allows adapting the product design such that it can be reliably mass produced within budgetary and operational constraints. A major goal is decreasing manufacturing costs through design choices that minimize waste, optimize tooling, standardize components, simplify assembly, and streamline production.

Industrial designers have expertise in manufacturing processes including casting, forging, molding, machining, fabrication, finishing, assembly, quality inspection, and more. This allows them to design products suited for enterprise-level production volumes. Documentation produced by industrial designers includes technical specifications, detailed production drawings, CAD models, part or mold drawings, tolerance documentation, instructions for suppliers, and comprehensive information needed for large-scale production.

Key Differences Between Product and Industrial Design

1. User Focus

Product designers prioritize optimizing the user experience of a product. Industrial designers optimize for efficient manufacturability.

2. Scope and Strategy

Product design focuses on an individual product. Industrial design takes a systems view, considering business ecosystems and strategy.

3. Expertise

Product designers are specialists in user research, prototyping, user interfaces (UI), human factors, and testing concepts with users. Industrial designers possess deep expertise in manufacturing processes and techniques.

4. Process

Product designers conduct user studies, ideate, prototype, test with users, and refine the user experience iteratively. Industrial designers analyze production options, lower costs, and document specifications needed for manufacturing.

5. Deliverables

Product designers provide prototypes, renderings, specs, and design principles focused on usability. Industrial designers deliver technical drawings, documentation, and specifications tailored for production.

While product design and industrial design are complementary disciplines, they involve distinct processes, expertise, and goals. Product design brings the voice of the user into the design process. Industrial design bridges the gap between design concept and feasible, cost-effective mass production. By recognizing these differences, you can assemble the right expertise for your product development needs.

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Partners in Creating Great Products

While different in focus, product design and industrial design are both essential partners in developing great products. Product and industrial design are most effective when treated as complementary disciplines that mix and match throughout the product development process. By combining their respective strengths at each stage, product designers and industrial designers can leverage their unique talents to create well-rounded products that balance user appeal and mass manufacturability. Rather than siloed roles, the two should integrate as interdisciplinary collaborators working towards the shared goal of successful products. Here’s how they can work together:

Early Stage Concepts

Product designers research users deeply to uncover needs and prototyping innovative concepts that solve them. Industrial designers provide early guidance on manufacturability. 


Product designers test and refine the user experience through prototyping and iteration. Industrial designers analyze production options and optimize the design for reliability and cost efficiencies in manufacturing.


Product designers validate that the product delivers a cohesive and delightful user experience. Industrial designers provide comprehensive specifications and documentation for manufacturing handoffs.

By combining strengths, product design and industrial design can craft products that both resonate with end users and can be profitably produced at scale. This interdisciplinary collaboration delivers user adoption and enterprise success.


In this piece, we explored the intricate nuances that distinguish product design from industrial design, focusing on their unique values, processes, expertise, and deliverables. While distinct, these disciplines work hand in hand to generate well-designed products suited for their intended purpose. Understanding their individual contributions can help you successfully align the right design talent with your vision as you embark on the journey of developing innovative products. Whether it's the meticulous crafting of user-centric experiences or the strategic optimization for large-scale manufacturability, both product design and industrial design stand as essential pillars of the design process, contributing their specialized skills to the creation of outstanding products that merge user satisfaction with operational feasibility.

For an in-depth look at how to blend product and industrial design into a holistic product development, be sure to listen to our experts’ recent podcast episode on their unique design process:

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