The difference between product design and industrial design.

Is Product Design separate to Industrial Design? Can one exist without the other, or are they actually one and the same thing? It’s a question that we encounter often, usually when a potential client is attempting to understand which type of designer they need for their project.


We thought we would tackle the question head on – and that our position was straight forward. We believe we are both product and industrial designers. But as we explore the meaning of product design, is it as clear cut?


Our award winning designs are built on a basis of form following function – an understanding of manufacturing processes and materials, engineering and technology, appeal and style. Any definition of industrial or product designer will include each of these elements – does it come down to simple terminology?


Is terminology future proof?


As industry has developed over time, terminology has had to adjust to accommodate and describe increasingly diverse skill sets and areas. Industrial design is a relatively new profession – around a hundred years old, and the role is still growing and changing.


Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most goods were made either at home, or in small workshops by individual craftsman. Skilled craftsmen were recognised for their knowledge of manufacturing techniques, experience in working with different materials and their artistry in creating unique pieces.


As mass production methods improved in the early 1900’s, factories began to separate design and manufacture, and the role of the Industrial Designer became a recognised concept. The designer may not have had an extensive knowledge of manufacturing processes, engineering or materials; his role would have been to provide a design that combined function with form. The manufacturer was then able to translate this using production techniques, creating identical products in large quantities for the marketplace.


By definition, the role of the Industrial Designer was to create designs that allowed industry to make high volumes of physical products at lower costs to sell to the mass market. Over time a new term developed – that of the Product Designer.


There was, and remains to most, no distinction between the two. Individual designers may classify themselves depending on their preference. The term leads some to assume that Product Design includes a larger focus on form and style, enhancing the desirability of the product, while Industrial Design takes the concept and makes adjustments for the engineering and manufacturing processes.


Industrial, domestic, physical or digital products


It seems that no one has a singular definition of Industrial or Product design, even across the educational system that produces new designers each year. Prospects, the graduate careers guide, implies that the distinction is between industrial and domestic products. The University of Portsmouth offers a separate course for each, while the University of Hertfordshire provides a single course in Product and Industrial Design.


In today’s world, there is even more potential to blur the lines. Industry continues to develop – new sectors are created, and therefore use of terminology will change again.


Consider the UX designer who develops a piece of computer software. No physical product is produced for manufacture; the original definition of Industrial Designer would not apply here. However, a designer is still required to create the concept, appearance and form of the programme as a consumable product. Is this where the term Product Designer becomes applicable in its own right?


As more digital products are produced, new terminology will develop. In another 100 years, the Product Design profession will have even more branches to explore.


Are we Industrial or Product Designers?


At Bluefrog Design we create award-winning products. Our designs are forward-thinking, using expertise gained through experience as well as through continuous research into new technology and techniques. A combination of appreciating the past – and looking ahead to the future.


Call us industrial designers or product designers. To us it’s a label that covers the same outcome – ground-breaking products that do what they are meant to, well.