Terminology Guide

Industrial Design

Learn the basic industrial design terminology needed for communicating with industrial designers and teams. We’ve put the key terms in this guide to help you quickly understand the framework of the ID process.

  • 3D File Types (Common)


  • 3D Printing

    Processes for making 3D objects, usually done by adding thin slices of a material onto one another until a finished object is created. Common 3D printing processes include FDM, SLA, SLS, and more.

  • Anthropometrics

    A study of the measurements and capabilities of the human
    body. Used to understand differences between bodies and inform ergonomics.

  • Anthropometrics

    A study of the measurements and capabilities of the human body. Used to understand differences between bodies and inform ergonomics.

  • Assembly

    The end product of an assembly process, usually made up of multiple parts. Can be a physical object or a digital model of a 3D object created in software such as SOLIDWORKS.

  • Awards related to Industrial Design

    The end product of an assembly process, usually made up of multiple parts. Can be a physical object or a digital model of a 3D object created in software such as SOLIDWORKS.

  • Bill of Marterials BOM

    A list that contains quantities of every component and raw material required to create a specified assembly. It serves as the first step and foundation for any industrial design project. A “Cost BOM” includes pricing information, while an “Indented BOM” displays all the parts needed for an assembly in a parent-child & top-down method.

  • Casting

    A manufacturing process where molten metal is poured into a mold.

  • Chamfer

    An edge where two surfaces meet to form a corner, like on a box or cabinet. Rather than forming a hard corner, however, a chamfered edge is beveled, making for a smoother transition.

  • Collinear

    Collinear directly means, “lying in the same line” and usually refers to three or more points that make up a straight line.

  • Color, Material, and Finish (CMF)

    A design discipline within industrial design centered around the concepts of color, material, and finish. CMF designers work with engineers to improve the product design by optimizing aesthetics, function, and experience.

  • Computer Aided Design (CAD)

    A blanket term for software used to aid in industrial design. It allows industrial designers to prototype and test with detailed, accurate 3D models that can later be made into physical assemblies. Designs created with CAD can be used to collaborate on specs, measurements, and form at a very precise level.

  • Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC)

    Programmed or automated machinery that is controlled via computer and used to produce accurate prototypes, tools, and components. Laser cutters, mills, and grinders can all be CNC machinery.

  • Concentric

    Circles, arcs, or other shapes that share the same center. An example of this would be a target, where each circle, regardless of size, shares the same center.

  • Control Drawing

    Also called an engineering drawing or technical drawing, a control drawing is a collection of 2D renderings of a finished assembly. It includes information like measurements, tolerances, and other notes that cannot be obtained from a 3D rendering alone.

  • Crown

    The highest point of a curved surface, like the top of a bell.

  • Die

    A tool (made from a metal block) used to cut or shape manufacturing material.

  • Dish

    A concave surface with a shallow dip.

  • Ergonomics

    A principle of design that uses psychology and physiology to improve the comfortability, safety, and efficiency of an object. An example would be the design of a desk based on testing and anthropometric data.

  • Exploded View

    A way of visualizing an assembly with all of the components separated. An exploded view shows the relationships between the different components and gives an idea of what the completed assembly looks like.

  • Feasibility Study

    Research done to evaluate the practicality of a project, usually conducted before the project has begun.

  • Fillet

    A rounded corner between two surfaces.

  • Final Design Review (FDR)

    A meeting that takes place to review an assembly before manufacturing begins. It’s a chance to make sure all feedback has been taken into account and all flaws have been resolved before committing to manufacturing.

  • First Article Inspection (FAI)

    An evaluation of the first completed assembly. It’s inspected for flaws in measurement, design, material, and more to ensure that the manufactured product will comply with design specifications.

  • Form Study

    A physical rendering of an assembly (often true to size but without the finish) that focuses on shape and form only. It usually has minimal functionality and is created to help evaluate measurements.

  • Good Design Award

     One of the longest-running and most prestigious awards given in industrial design. It’s awarded to companies that push the envelope and raise the bar in the world of design.

  • Hardness

    A measurement of an object’s resistance to physical deformation, often done using Rockwell and Shore Durometer scales. Can pertain to scratching, bending, cutting, etc.

  • Human Factors

    The study of humans’ physical and psychological interactions with an object or environment. Human factors are taken into account during a product’s design.

  • Ideation

    A collaborative and creative process for idea generation that takes place early in a project. Brainstorming, mind maps, and sketching are some techniques used during this phase.

  • iF Product Design Award

    An international award given for innovation and excellence in product design. More from Dexigner

  • Industrial Design

    A creative discipline with the goal of solving real-world problems through a blend of art and design, technology, and science. Industrial design drives innovation through practical ideas and scientific processes by creating physical products that are user-friendly, manufacturable, and able to meet business goals.

  • Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA)

    A non-profit organization that promotes the craft and education of industrial design.

  • International Design Excellence Award (IDEA)

    An industrial design award given to brands that help develop public awareness and passion for industrial design. The award is presented by the Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA).

  • Mold

    A form used to create similarly-shaped plastic or metal forms, typically through mass production. Molds are usually made of metal and can work via injection molding or casting.

  • Mood Board

    A collage of imagery created at the start of a project with the goal of giving the project a visual theme and communicating the tone or aesthetic. Also known as a theme board or inspiration board.

  • Off-Tool Sample (OTS)

    A sample used to make sure that the manufacturing process is creating desired results, the assembly works as it should, and the manufacturing process is free of problems. Used to check whether production tooling is tuned correctly and fix any flaws in the design prior to making production quantities. There are often at least two OTS versions created during a project.

  • Original Design Manufacturer (ODM)

    A company that designs and manufactures products for other companies to sell as their own. Sometimes the design is first created by the ODM and sold to a brand, and other times the brand provides their own design specification.

  • Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM)

    A company that manufactures components and/or finished products for other companies. Many brands use OEMs to complete some or all of their manufacturing.

  • Part

    Similar to a component, a part is a single piece of an assembly. A part can be a digital or physical representation of a piece. A digital example would be a part file in software such as SOLIDWORKS.

  • Percentile (as in “5th percentile”)

    A percentage of the population that possesses a particular trait. In a percentile based on height, the 5th percentile would be the shortest 5% of the population, while the 95th percentile would be the tallest 5%.

  • Pilot Run

    A small-scale production run done before starting full-scale production. Its purpose is to find and resolve any remaining issues with the design or assembly process in order to conserve time and money during full production.

  • Prototype

    A digital or physical model of the final assembly created during the design process. Used to assess certain aspects of the final product before beginning manufacturing.

  • Rapid Prototyping (RP)

    A method for creating prototypes quickly and efficiently, such as by using 3D CAD data to print a model. Using software and 3D printing, a model can often be created within a day.

  • Red Dot Award


    An international award given to businesses that have distinguished themselves through industrial design. It is awarded for excellence in product design, communication design, and other design concepts.

  • Rendering

    The process of generating a 2D or 3D visualization of a proposed design, usually using software or drawings. Level of quality and detail can vary from rough suggestion to photorealistic.

  • Rockwell Scale (HRA/HRK)

    A measurement system for determining a material’s hardness. In this system, a major and minor load are placed on a material, and then the depth of indentation is calculated.

  • Scale

    A way to create smaller or larger versions of an object while maintaining proportions, usually used when an object is too large or small to practically demonstrate otherwise. For example, a designer might show a desk at 1:7 scale (one-seventh of full size) so that it fits on a piece of paper.

  • Shore Durometer Scale

    A measurement system for determining a material’s hardness. The system uses a device (called a durometer) that places a standardized amount of force on a material, after which measurements are taken to determine the depth of indentation created by the durometer. The value of this measurement then corresponds to a value on the Shore Durometer scale.

  • Tangent

    A perfectly straight line that touches a curve without passing through it, so that the curve and the tangent only meet at one point.

  • Tensile Strength (MPa)

    Measures the force it would require to break a material under tension. This is also called ultimate strength and is generally measured in pounds per square inch.

  • Three-Dimensional Coordinate System (XYZ)

    A system for describing the location of objects, curves, or planes in relation to each other. Coordinate systems are an important part of most CAD softwares because they establish the zero points of X, Y, and Z planes, which is essential to communicate when designing a product for production.

  • Tolerance

    The amount of variance that is allowed in a particular component during manufacturing. Since it’s impossible to manufacture a perfect part every time, tolerances tell manufacturers to what extent a measurement (such as a dimension or hole size) can vary from the intended design without causing the part to malfunction.