The Difference Between Industrial Design And Design Engineering

There is a huge misunderstanding between the overlapping functions in which these two processes—industrial design and design engineering—operate. The following definitions are from Wikipedia:

Industrial Design (ID) is an applied art whereby the aesthetics and usability of products may be improved. Design aspects specified by the industrial designer may include the overall shape of the object, the location of details with respect to one another, colors, texture, sounds, and aspects concerning the use of the product ergonomics.

Design Engineering (DE) is a discipline that creates and transforms ideas and concepts into a product definition that satisfies customer requirements.

The definitions of these two categories of design have a fundamental difference between them: ID is an applied art, whereas DE is a discipline. This means that industrial designers more often have more liberal control than design engineers to design everything that they or their customers like. This is due to the fact that design engineers have only one choice: make it work.

However, since the functions of each are often unclear, customers can easily be confused as to which one they need. Although, misunderstanding which one they need is almost inevitable because of a series of factors:
1. Each industrial designer or design engineer has greed to get the job, so they do not make it clear to the customer what their function is.
2. The customer looks for a “one stop shop”, so they want to accomplish everything in one shot, whereas they may need both an industrial designer and design engineer.
3. Designers believe to be something they are not. Some industrial designers believe to be design engineers as well, only to end up creating a product that is not functional or suitable for manufacturability. Whereas, some design engineers believe to be industrial designers as well, only to end up creating an ugly product that requires a three-armed person to use it.

It is both the industrial designers and design engineers’ job to educate customers. If we compare them with doctors, doctors have done a much better job in educating their customers (patients) about their specialization. You never have a cosmetic surgery doctor performing brain surgery (or vice versa) due to the differences in specializations (and liability). It is very clear on what one can and cannot do. Unfortunately, it is not as clear what one can and cannot do in ID and DE. Therefore, it is a big mess.

When I started in the plastics injection molding industry 26 years ago, I was fortunate to be taught then the difference between ID and DE. And so, as a design engineer, I have always been careful not to step into the ID area. My job is to design a working product and send that to an industrial designer to dress it up.

Having worked with different customers of different backgrounds, I realized that industrial designers and design engineers very rarely recommend that their customers see the other (unlike doctors do). This is a matter of pride and business. There is a fear that the customer will think one is incompetent or that the customer will finish the project with the other one, although unbeknown to the customer the other one is not the expert in both.

I consistently receive product designs from industrial designers, in which case 99% the parts are not ready for manufacturing. They most often times need a draft angle added in order to eject the part from the mold or a wall thickness increased to accommodate the material specification. Somebody has to spend the time to redesign the part, and that has to be paid for by the customer. Often times, the customer does not understand the need to redesign and the sequence of events to validate. This situation creates confusion, frustration, and mistakes.

When a customer pays for a design, they expect the design to be ready for manufacturing. However, many times customers find themselves paying more and waiting longer for product redesign so that it is suitable for manufacturing. Therefore, know the difference between industrial design and design engineering, and ensure you know which one you are dealing with.


Agjah Libohova
Director of Research & Development
Autronic Plastics inc.
29 New York Ave
Westbury, NY, 11590
Ph: 516-333-7577
Fax: 516-333-7695
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Website: www.apisolution.com

Rating:
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Review Article
  • The Jack of all Trades November 25, 2013
    Reviewed by 'Isa L'
    I am curious what would the last reviewer (and anyone else that agree with him) think if the Stanford offers courses of study for brain and plastic surgeons combined.
    People, nobody, nobody is "Jack of all Trades"!!!!
    Universities want your money and they claim to train you in both this specialties but you know deep in your heart that your skills are limited in one direction only. Maybe there is a "Da Vinci" among us but we all know he/she is an exception.

      4 of 5 found this review helpful.
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  • Whence Product Design? November 18, 2013
    Reviewed by 'Dexter Francis'
    It may be time to update this article, as many schools, such as Stanford, have been offering courses of study which attempt to bridge the gap between the art of Industrial and science of Engineering Design. Particularly in this day when CAD Drafter/Detailing is called "Design" and Engineering Analysis (Thermal/Structural) must blend with User Experience, it's not possible to settle for traditional Mechanical/Electrical/Software boundaries.

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  • ID and DE are different October 15, 2013
    Reviewed by 'not hybrind'
    The last review gives the impression that ID and DE are lately "Fused" to one. This is the dangerous position that many companies have adopted. By eliminating DE (not tooling engineer) you have created a hybrid creature that is half able of delivering a finished product.
    ID is an industrial artist it is not a product designer. The contribute of the ID on the design process is anything but engineering. Therefore an ID with some engineering knowledge will only design a half finished design.
    If the author of this article takes as example the draft angles I don't think he means just that. For a product to be designed properly is needed not just draft angles but many other particular features that only an engineer may address during the product design process.
    This mindset is the cause of catastrophe of many organizations that the new product design is left on the hands of the hybrids like the last reviewer.

      One person found this review helpful.

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  • Come on - this is not true anymore September 17, 2013
    Reviewed by 'Hannu Havusto'
    I was looking for texts where industrial design and mechanical design (engineering) are compared. I was really surprised to find this article. I think there are many old fashioned, conservative and stubborn opinions that might have been true many years ago but not anymore.
    1. Industrial design is not art. It is a function in product development that tries to find an optimum solution that fills users and manufacturers needs. It starts to researching all possible facts to make a description how and where and by whom the product is used AND what are the best ways to manufacture it.
    2. It is a totally wrong idea that FIRST some engineer design a product and AFTER that there comes an artist (industrial designer) who tries to soften some sharp corners and add nice color to make it more acceptable for the buyer.
    3. Regarding draft angles it takes about couple of minutes to explain the basic idea of them to industrial design student. And then he/she at least tries to make them right. Of course there are difficult forms and complex molds that is not so easy to understand. But that's why we need injection molding experts to give advice that everything will be ok for molding. But in many case a good industrial designer can also think better solutions for the whole product concept and then it might be possible to use cheaper natural molds and so on.
    I hope that borders between engineers and industrial designers will be removed because we need all the best expertise to make good products.

      10 of 12 found this review helpful.
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  • Good and Clear February 19, 2013
    Reviewed by 'JOHN Efekodo'
    This is a very clear article. The author says it all and I'm quite clear as to the differences between DE and ID. I studied (Engineering Design) DE in the UK and we was put through the process of how to make products work. But for the life of me I never really understood why I was unable to make them beautiful or aethethic, that is until now. It's the ID's work to do that and not mine.

      5 of 6 found this review helpful.
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