How Are Product Design vs. Industrial Design Services Different?

How Are Product Design vs. Industrial Design Services Different?

Designers come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, it’s easy to tell different types of designers apart. We know that a graphic designer is different from an interior design service because one is specifically for the insides of buildings, and one is for graphics. Even if an interior designer were to use graphic design for their work, they would still be an interior designer because that is their primary focus.

At first glance, product design and industrial design may seem like the same thing. After all, both services involve designing products that will eventually be sold to someone. As similar as they look at first glance, however, like other kinds of design, they are different.

Product design is just as it sounds. It’s the general design of products, such as the rubber ducky floating around in your child’s tub, a new type of camera, or a new cleaning spray. All of these vastly different products need to be thought out before they can be created. A product designer’s job is to come up with those first few images, which will become the base of everything else that comes.

Product design can be for anyone and anything. It does not have to be rendered and can consist of anything from a pencil or ink sketch to a CAD rendering. It can also be for handmade items or products that are not mass-produced.

For industrial design, the designer is still designing products for someone, but the product is explicitly geared towards being mass-produced. As an example, a smartphone that can be quickly and easily assembled by machines, or an ergonomic keyboard that is designed to be manufactured in easy-to-assemble pieces.

Industrial designers also typically handled using the features of the product to brand them, such as the shape of LeapFrog products that are easily identifiable, no matter what product in the line is being looked at.

While the distinction may seem vague at first, and indeed, the two are sometimes confused in various articles, there are a variety of key differences between these two services.

A Closer Look at Product Design

Conceptual design for a stand-up vehicle by Guilherme Rocha.

Whenever an entrepreneur comes up with a fabulous new product idea, the first steps of product design work begin. The first few fuzzy ideas might be just a vague solution for how to make scrubbing the toilet less gross, or a breakthrough in technology without the product itself to run the new software.

That entrepreneur might call on a product design service to help make a clear image for the basis of the remaining design process. A good product designer can take this idea and help bring it from mere design concepts to a beautiful and functional product.

Making a product both beautiful and functional is essential. A product that is easy to manufacture but ugly will not generate any sales. A product that is a good idea in theory but isn’t functional will quickly draw poor reviews and disappointment from customers who purchased it and found it didn’t work.

The product design process doesn’t necessarily need CAD software to be successful. The idea of a new product can be gotten together with rough sketches and a mockup.

If you’re hiring a professional product designer to help get your idea off the ground, you can expect them to listen carefully to your idea and work hard to bring your idea to life. This may involve CAD software, a drawing, or a mock-up depending on how that particular designer handles things.

If you have a pretty good hand for drawing and a distinct idea in your head as to what the product will look like, you might think you don’t need a product designer. Product designers, however, aren’t just drawing what you think the product looks like.

Product designers also pay attention to details such as the user experience, how intuitive the product is, and even the emotional appeal of the item.

During this phase, the product is designed with an eye towards making the product the best it can be. The possibilities are limitless. The product designer may be skilled at figuring out how to bring your idea to life, but the product may not be easy to manufacture. Once through the product design process, it’s usually best to send the idea to an industrial design service to be made into a manufacturer-ready design.

A Closer Look at Industrial Design

Zeal Hydroponic System by StephanStrydom.

Once the initial product design has been created, it’s time to send the idea to an industrial designer to help get it ready to be mass-produced. The industrial designer will take a look at the data you have available, and take it from an idea to something that can be used by a manufacturer to turn it into a real working product.

This isn’t just a more detailed CAD draft. Every single part needed for the product is shown in detail, from the screws holding it together to the microchips required to make it work.

Showing every single part and how they fit together isn’t the only step necessary to make a product industrial design ready. The product also needs a draft angle to help eject product parts from the mold, as well as walls of the product thick enough to make sure that it can be manufactured.

Details like these are what truly defines the difference between product design and industrial design. An industrial designer does not focus on the aesthetics of the product, how appealing it is, or what it looks like. Their job is mainly to make sure the product created by the product designer can be manufactured, and that it will get through the process looking and acting the way it is supposed to.

The industrial designer also frequently helps in making changes to an already existing product model for branding or aesthetics. If you’re trying to create a product that is the latest in a long line of other products, the industrial designer can update it so it looks new and modern, but still recognizable as part of that line.

If your product is part of a brand, your industrial designer can help make it easy to recognize as part of the brand even if they are very different products. Even kitchen supplies can be made to recognizably match, such as the KitchenAid line.

Why Knowing the Difference Is Essential as a Customer

digital nomad

When setting out to have a new product created, it might feel ridiculous to have to hire two designers for the same product. After all, why not just have the industrial designer do the creative process as well and save time?

While there may be a few industrial design services that can crossover or a few product designers who have a basic idea of how to make their ideas manufacture-ready, the result of trying to mix the two is often disappointing.

Many manufacturers reject the designs because the parts need to be redesigned to be manufacturer-ready, or there is some confusion on how the parts are to be made.

This can lead to unnecessarily long wait times as the product is redesigned to meet the manufacturer’s requirements, and may require you spending more money than you originally planned.

Looking to Hire One of These? Here’s How to Be Clear Enough to Get What You Want

There’s a lot of confusion even among designers about what each term means. You may try to hire an industrial designer or CAD service only to discover they’re a product designer. You might try to skip product design and go straight to an industrial designer for all of it, only to be refused.

Being clear is one of the best ways to save time. Before hiring someone to do the work you have in mind, be clear about what you want to achieve. If you are looking for an industrial designer, not only use that term but list what you want done. Do they know how to add draft angles? Do they know the appropriate thickness for each material?

Due to the confusion among even designers, listing what you want to be handled can be a great way to separate product designers from industrial designers.

A quick glance at their portfolio is another great way to get an idea of whether they are the right person for the job. If they show the technical specs on their work, chances are they lean more towards industrial design. If they feature spectacular renders but no functional features, it’s more likely to be product design that they cater to.

Tips for Hiring


Of course, even when you can tell the two types of designers apart, getting quality work is based on finding a great design team or freelancer to do the work for you. A designer can only be as good as their skill level, and other factors, such as how well they communicate and whether they complete designs on time, can all factor into how well the product turns out.

Finding a quality product or industrial designer is not something that should be rushed through. There are hundreds of designers available through freelancing websites, LinkedIn, and other job opportunity websites. Finding the right one for you means looking at several of them and then narrowing your decision down to the person best for you.

There are a few ways to tell if a designer will be good for you, but in general, these are the best ways to pick a good quality designer:

Look at Their Portfolio

No matter how spectacular a person’s credentials are, in the end, it’s what their products look like and how well they work for your purposes that determine if the designer is right for you or not. You can tell at a glance what their best work is, and get an idea of whether their abilities match your expectations by taking a look at their portfolios.

Your potential designer should be glad to show you their portfolio, and it should have their best work in it. If they don’t have a portfolio or the portfolio is old and outdated, you may want to look for someone with better examples of their work.

Ask for Referrals

A portfolio can tell you how good they are with designs, but not how good they are with the people they work with. A customer can tell you what their experience was like working with the designer, whether they were on time or not, and how professional the experience was.

With industrial designers, you can also find out details such as whether their work was sent back several times for revisions and why. Getting the full picture this way can help you divide who is pleasant to work with and who will be more difficult.

Do a Sample Project

If you really like a designer but they’re new, or you simply don’t want to entrust your much more extensive product with someone who isn’t easy to work with at all, a sample project is a great way to test the waters before committing.

By asking them for a smaller, less expensive project, you can see for yourself many of the same things you’d get from looking at reviews or talking with referrals. If the designer gets your product done at the time you agreed on, is polite and professional, and delivers quality work, you can entrust them with a much bigger project without fear. If their work is subpar, you’re only out a few hundred dollars compared to the thousands of dollars you might have invested entrusting them blindly on your big project.

Cad Crowd’s Variety of Services Can Help with Any Project

Both product designers and industrial designers have essential roles to play in the marketplace. If you have a product you want to bring from idea to store shelves, you will need designers to help you prepare your product to be the best it can be.

Product design firms and freelancers are great for helping you come up with new ideas, and industrial designers are essential for getting them from idea to mass manufacture ready. You’ll need both to complete your product.

Luckily, Cad Crowd has a network of the best industrial designers and product designers in the world. We’ve worked with some high-quality brands to create designs that not only look good, but function. Find out how it works today!