Industrial Design Versus Engineering Design

It’s fairly universal: You think and therefore you can design. And, believe it or not, everyone has designed something in his or her life. Beginning at an early age…when you created your first crayon drawing or clay blob. But, designing products is far more complicated and challenging than creating clay blobs as a child. The millions of products on the market are the result of designers, who specialize in specific disciplines, effectively performing their jobs.

The two major disciplines within the product design profession are industrial designers and design engineers. Each specialist makes an invaluable contribution to the successful design based on two different perspectives. This post will describe each of the perspectives, their respective significance and their effect on the success of a product in the marketplace.

Products can be classified into two major categories: Those that are purely functional without human interaction, and those that are functional with human interaction. Purely functional products such as boilers, tanks or hard drives for computers typically do not require industrial design.

The Industrial Designer Works for the End-User

The majority of products that interact with humans are the beneficiaries of the work of industrial designers. These products are designed with the end-user in mind. The perspective is different from that of an engineer whose sole focus is performance and function. Industrial designers are taught to design holistically, examining all the factors associated with a product and focusing on features affecting the user.

What are the user’s needs? Uniquely, that answer is based on the product and its intent. For example, sporting goods that are worn must be designed for comfort and performance. However, if the product design is only optimized based on these two factors and ignores appearance, the product will be a dismal failure. That is why sportswear is so fashionable and why a company like Nike has become a world leader in sportswear.

Industrial designers are often challenged by brand products that require a specific look that emotes a specific reaction from the prospective buyer. The intended (brand) reaction might be luxury, power, safety, masculinity or elegance. Talented industrial designers creatively convey these impressions by manipulating overall style, proportions, colors, graphics and shapes. Industrial designers who skillfully apply current materials and technologies within their concepts often set new trends in an industry.

Design engineers focus their attention on the practical aspects of product design that pertain to structural integrity, ease of manufacturing, performance, longevity, etc. They are more concerned with efficiency, low cost and function versus the esoteric concerns of the industrial designer. Design engineers are not typically concerned with appearance, user comfort or emotive reactions from prospective buyers. Their primary objectives are to design a product that will comply with performance specifications.

The most successful products emerge with a balanced integration of contributions from both industrial designers and industrial engineers. Products must be designed to perform in accordance with their expectations as well as provide a level of satisfaction and pride in their owners.

Well-crafted, aesthetically appealing and high-performance products that are cost-effectively manufactured are always successful. Next time you plan your next new product, plan to integrate the skills of an industrial designer and engineer for a winning combination.

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