Big Picture Benefits of Holistic Product Design

Product design is a challenging and creative profession especially for the select few who enjoy the variety of projects presented to them as design consultants. Designers employed within an OEM based corporation experience completely different challenges versus those working within an independent design firm. In-house corporate designers become highly experienced in one particular product group and may even specialize in a sub-assembly within a much larger system.

Independent consultants however are faced with a wide range of products in multiple markets with a shallower understanding of the product. In either case, it’s extremely beneficial for a designer or engineer to maintain a big picture perspective of the product and his or her contribution to the overall design. Unfortunately, OEM corporations tend to funnel information to individual designers, focusing their attention on small fragments of a large system.

Although this compartmentalized management style efficiently communicates vital information to project contributors it also places blinders on each individual and inadvertently complicates the overall development process. This development management model essentially creates an environment where each person feels his or her job is the most important part of the larger system. This makes them less willing to make changes that might be better for the entire system architecture.

Unnecessary entanglements vs. holistic perspective

The development process can therefore become entangled with complications caused by departments or designers who are resistant to design modifications as new challenges arise. These obstacles can introduce overly complicated design workarounds and project delays. Designers working within a smaller independent firm, on the other hand, are required to seamlessly integrate their work with a client’s development team.

This overall objective requires designers to understand a product development program from a higher perspective. They must understand their contribution based on a holistic perspective that includes marketing, user requirements, safety, ease of assembly, ease of service, ease of manufacturing, aesthetics, corporate branding, etc.

Designing and engineering decisions based on the bigger picture typically yield much better designs versus those developed with a compartmentalized management structure. The holistic approach to problem-solving invariably provides you with information that will inspire you to view your contribution within a complex network of parameters associated with the product. Your design decisions will be evaluated more objectively, leading to solutions that are more congruent with the overall product requirements.

Engineers are typically focused on performance and function as their top priorities, which may conflict with marketing objectives, aesthetics and human factors considerations. However, if they become aware of these other important product considerations, they may be inspired to integrate the functional and performance design solutions with these other design parameters.

Holistic design methodology also includes manufacturing, storage and shipping considerations. Should a product be designed as one large complex part requiring no on-site assembly, or should it be designed as smaller modules that can be efficiently stacked and shipped? These are the types of critical decisions having a direct effect on part design.

There have been numerous articles written about holistic design. If you’re interested, I suggest you search the Internet and read a few. I am a strong advocate of holistic or integrated design since it always results in a superior end in a highly efficient manner.

I welcome your comments. Reach me at or visit our website

Michael Paloian, is an authority in industrial and commercial product design and is an inventor, lecturer and educator. He is president of Integrated Design Systems, Inc. (IDSYS), an award-winning industrial design firm. Mr. Paloian is a faculty member, Plastics Engineering, University of Massachusetts Lowell, and a Contributing Design Editor for industry publications.