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1.9 Engineering or industrial design?

Design is commonly split into two distinct but connected disciplines, engineering design and industrial design. Engineering design concentrates on the factors in the PDS which concern the function of a product. That is, whether or not it will perform mechanically, electrically, thermally, etc., the functions defined in the PDS. Industrial design addresses the form of the product. That is, everything affecting the interaction between product and its user or buyer, from how it appears in the sales literature or in the shop window, right through to how it is used. Thus industrial design takes in aspects such as the product's shape, colour, decoration, packaging and so on, in the light of such subjective factors as 'style' and 'image' which are extremely difficult to define. In very general terms, engineering design aims to make the product work; industrial design aims to make it sell.

There is still a widespread misconception, especially among engineers, that industrial design is purely concerned with fashion, but this view fails to account for the fact that design effort needs to be expended on, for example, the position, size and shape of control knobs on machine tools. The engineering approach might be to place them in the position most convenient for manufacture and not to consider that their feel and appearance affect how easy an operator finds the machine to use – a big factor in the company gaining repeat orders. So, attention must be paid to both engineering design and industrial design if successful, profitable products are to be developed.


Which of the following products rely more on industrial design than engineering design for successful sales?

  1. A screwdriver.

  2. A television set.

  3. A car.

  4. A light bulb.


  1. The screwdriver simply has to perform a particular function. There is little variation in design between different brands, so the industrial design aspect is clearly unimportant.

  2. A television set is likely to be bought because of its aesthetic qualities such as the styling of its case for example, if it is assumed that different brands have roughly the same performance, for example in terms of picture quality. So the industrial design is more important.

  3. Again, a car is likely to sell on looks as well as – if not more than – function, so industrial design is important, like the styling for the Aston Martin Vanquish.

  4. A light bulb is bought solely for function. Industrial design has very little importance, particularly as the fittings are standardised.