What is Product Design?

If you were to search the internet for a firm to help you design your product, you'd likely be lead to an agency that creates digital experiences; mobile, web, native apps, things like that. This has been the thorn in the side of the industrial designer for the past half decade or so. We have been interchanging product design and industrial design for decades, so that designation belonged to us. This was my mindset until doing a bit more research.

I was listening to the Hustle Podcast, which is produced by a mobile application agency here in Austin called Fun Size. The designers on the particular episode I was listening to were explaining that they prefer to call themselves Product Designers, because their role was comprised of more than just UX, Visual Design, or UI specifically, but incorporated all of those things and more. They were designing the entire Product, which they referred to the definition on Wikipedia which explained that a product is "anything that can be offered to a market that might satisfy a want or need."

In this context, I had to admit, Product makes sense for both. Whereas we Industrial Designers typically think of the definition of product being something physical that you can hold, there doesn't seem to be a good case of why it should be limited to that. Furthermore, when you look at what "Industrial Design" really means, I would argue that it is deeper than "Product Design" in the specific world of manufactured goods. Industrial Design, in my opinion, implies the consideration of manufacturability, engineering, marketing and ultimately large scale production. Product Design, when applied to physical objects is less specific, with fewer implications of these factors in it's connotation.

Maybe we held onto "Product Design" with such tenacity because almost no one outside of our industry knows what Industrial Design means. "Oh you design factories?" Let's not get started on that can of worms just yet.