What is industrial design?

Industrial design (also known as product design) is the process of designing, developing, and improving three-dimensional products that holistically combine functionality, usability, manufacturability, user experience, sustainability, and aesthetics. Industrial design integrates knowledge and approaches from various disciplines such as engineering, art, and business strategy to turn ideas into tangible solutions and products. In this post, we will explain what industrial design is, its fundamental guiding principles, the different sub-categories within industrial design, and finally, a bit about product design in Israel.

Defining Industrial Design

When meeting a new acquaintance who asks us about our profession, we usually get a puzzled look when we answer that we are industrial designers 😂. This is of course more true in Israel, where industrial design is less known as a profession compared to Europe and the USA where it is much more established.

And so, it seems natural to start this post with the answer we give in these situations to the question, “What is industrial design?” So… industrial design is the discipline of designing products that need to be manufactured by industrial machines, usually in large (mass) quantities (as opposed to products which are made by hand or other non industrial techniques).

This is the shortest explanation we have refined over the years 😉, but of course, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Interested in hearing more? Let’s continue :)

The Central Principles of Industrial Design

In this post, we will review the basic principles of industrial design: functionality, usability, manufacturability, user experience, sustainability, and aesthetics. However, it is important to understand that the true role of industrial design lies in the holistic combination of all these principles together. This holistic combination can be referred to in our eyes as the “seventh principle.” When done correctly, it’s really magical ✨.

So without further ado, let’s start :)

Functionality 🛠: Products must first and foremost perform the function which they are intended to do efficiently and effectively. For this reason, industrial design must consider various functional elements of the product, including: the product’s various components (off-the-shelf components, mechanics, electronics), structure, usability, material requirements (bio compatibility, heat/cold resistance, water/moisture/dust IP), and much more.

Industrial design for an advanced water controller with stringent sealing requirements
The design of Epsilon-C, an advanced water controller we designed for Bermad, revolved around the functional requirement for the product to meet the IP68 waterproof standard

Manufacturability 👷: At its core, industrial design is a process of planning and designing products intended for industrial manufacturing (much as the name “industrial design” implies). And industrial manufacturing usually goes hand in hand with producing products in mass. This means that industrial designers need to have extensive knowledge of different materials and manufacturing technologies (injection molded plastic, extrusions, sheet metal, stamping,just to name a few), so that the products we design are compatible for manufacturing. Having said that, designing a product for manufacturability doesn’t mean we don’t try to challenge manufacturers from time to time, but to do so, we need a deep understanding of the relevant technology to propose alternative yet feasible solutions and ultimately, achieve innovative solutions.

The manufacturing process of a plastic injection mold
The manufacturing process of a polypropylene injection mold for storage boxes that we designed for Tama Plastic

Cost Reduction 💵: From the point of view of industrial design, reducing production costs is not about cutting corners or compromising on quality. On the contrary, cost reduction involves a more thoughtful process of preciseing the product specifications, smart use of resources and a commitment to maximizing value for both the consumer and the manufacturer with every product decision. For example, by reducing the amount of raw material in a particular product, the product will be more environmentally friendly because it uses less raw material, its weight will be lower because it uses less material, and the product’s cost will decrease since the raw material price is a significant component of a product’s pricing. Therefore, designing for target costs encourages innovation, contributes to sustainable products, and makes products more accessible to a broader audience by strategically balancing functionality and costs.

A set of 3 polypropylene bowls that were designed to cost
The brief for Yumi bowls was to design a set of 3 polypropylene bowls that would be sold to consumers at 19 NIS (approximately 5.5$)

User Experience 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦: Understanding the behavior, needs, and pain points of users is essential to designing intuitive and easy-to-use products. Therefore, industrial design requires using various methods of user research which allow to define product specifications which answer the user needs. This research informs the design process, ensuring that ergonomic, safety, and general usability requirements are met. By emphasizing user experience, product designers ensure that a product is not only functional and efficient but also creates an emotional connection with the user that contributes to user satisfaction and enjoyment over time.

An ergonomic model tested by a user wearing a glove)
An ergonomic model that evaluates the comfort of using the product while wearing gloves

Sustainability 🌍: Sustainability is now a fundamental requirement for any product. The industrial design process aims to minimize the negative environmental impact of product manufacturing by addressing several key issues. These include careful material selection (using recycled, recyclable, and environmentally friendly materials while avoiding harmful ones), reducing the product’s carbon footprint by minimizing the amount of raw material needed, elongating the product’s lifespan to delay or avoid replacement, and designing for easy disassembly and recycling (end-of-life disposal).

3 LEGO men made from an all-natural material composed of wood waste
Application concept for an all-natural material composed of wood waste developed by Daika Wood

Aesthetics 🌸: People who are not design professionals often believe that design is merely about “making things look pretty.” However, the reality is quite different. Yes, industrial designers need to have sculptural abilities, a keen aesthetic sense and an understanding of contemporary trends. And yes, aesthetics is undoubtedly important for successful design, but having said that, for us, aesthetics often result from the success of other product attributes such as functionality, manufacturability, and usability. During the design process, our primary focus is on finding the right solutions for the user, engineering, manufacturer, and marketing. When a product successfully balances the needs of all stakeholders, its beauty usually naturally emerges from its optimal performance.

A 3d printed sample in clear green material
One of 12 samples we designed for a sales kit for the 3D printing giant Stratasys

So these are the basic principles of industrial design from a bird’s-eye view. Of course, there are many sub-principles and additional considerations in product design, but for us, these are the foundation. If you are interested in delving deeper and learning more about the practical process of industrial design, we recommend reading our post on the industrial design, development and manufacturing processes of products.

Sub-Categories in Industrial Design

Industrial design encompasses various specialized sub-categories, each demanding unique expertise. These sub-categories include mobility and transportation design, furniture design, medical product design, electronic product design, textile and soft products design, and 3D printed products, among others. Each specialization requires a distinct knowledge base, in addition to the general skills and understanding essential for all industrial designers.

Industrial Design in Israel

Academies: In Israel, there are three major industrial design faculties: Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, HIT (Holon Institute of Technology), and Shenkar. Additionally, Bezalel and the Technion offer various undergraduate programs in industrial design.

Museums: The most prominent design institution in Israel is the Holon Design Museum, which encompasses all fields of design, including industrial design, graphic design, fashion design, and more. Studio Kuchik & Amitai had the honor of presenting a solo exhibition at the museum called “Flat 3D” and has numerous objects in the museum’s permanent collection. Additionally, the Eretz Israel Museum and the Israel Museum frequently host design exhibitions and boast substantial design collections.

Design Awards: The highest design award for industrial designers in Israel is the EDR (Rothschild Design Award), presented every three years. Studio Kuchik & Amitai had the honor of receiving this prestigious award in the young industrial designer category in 2021.