Product Development Terms

Dive deeper in Product Development Terminalogy

Like any other industry, product development uses common phrases, terms, roles, and acronyms. To help you get up to speed, we’ll run through some of the most common ones here.

Project Management

  • Project Manager
    • A project manager is responsible for the overall execution of a project and client satisfaction. They manage the client interaction, product requirements, project schedule, and budget.
  • Product Requirements Document
    • Also known as a “PRD”, the Product Requirements Document outlines the critical functions and requirements for a product that define its success. This is shared by design firms and clients to help ensure development success.
  • Product Development Plan
    • Outlines key technical challenges, development activities and estimated costs, and bill of materials/breakeven estimating tool based on those estimated costs.
  • Revision Control
    • A numerical system used to ensure that every document and file is unique and identifiable. This is used to ensure document organization and reduce mistakes during the development process.
  • Gantt Chart
    • A visual schedule in which one activity leads to another. It is useful in identifying time based dependencies and parallel efforts.
  • Compliance Testing
    • Also known as conformance testing, this procedure is used to ensure that a process, product, or service meets the requirements or specifications set for it.

Industrial Design

  • Industrial Designer
    • An industrial designer lives at the intersection of marketing, engineering, and manufacturing. Their goal is to envision a product concept that meets all of the needs of the user and satisfies these 3 groups. They are involved early in the development process and help shape the high level, conceptual design of the product.
  • Comparative Product Analysis
    • Used to compare and evaluate potential competitors or alternate solutions to gain insight for a product development effort.
  • Concept Ideation
    • Ideation is the process of creating new and unique ideas. Concept ideation is used to come up with many different ways to solve a problem or implement a product.
  • Concept Iteration
    • Iteration is the process of making small changes to a singular concept. Concept iteration is used once a concept has been selected to refine it to an optimal solution.
  • Sequence of Use
    • A diagram or list that outlines each step involved in the process of using a product. It is intended to illustrate the user’s experience and help designers find ways of improving it.
  • Use Case
    • Defines one scenario for a sequence of use. There could be multiple use cases for a product.
  • Product Architecture
    • Defines the high level assembly of a product and what it is comprised of. Typically shown through illustration or block diagram.
  • System Design
    • Focuses on the design of the ecosystem in which a product exists in. For example, some products interact with cloud based computing or have specific distribution methods key to the user’s success.
  • CMF
    • Also known as Color, Material, Finish. This is a specific discipline within industrial design focused on the tactile and visual elements of the product.
  • Ergonomics
    • The study of people’s efficiency in their working environment. An ergonomic product is comfortable and easy to use and therefore increases efficiency.
  • CAD Modeling
    • Computer Aided Design. CAD Modeling is used to build a product in virtual 3D space so that it can then be turned into a prototype, used for simulation, or eventually manufactured.
  • Photo-Realistic Rendering
    • A digital rendering that is generated by using special software to apply colors, materials, and lighting to an existing CAD model. These are commonly used in marketing materials and can help with quick aesthetic iteration.

Mechanical Engineering

  • Mechanical Engineer
    • Mechanical engineers combine physics and mathematics to generate mechanical systems.
  • Detail Design
    • This is the design iteration that prepares the unit for manufacturing. This includes removing any interferences, checking for tolerance stackups, adding draft (if necessary), and verifying wall thicknesses.
  • FEA
    • Finite Element Analysis. This process uses software to virtually simulate mechanical, thermal, and electrical scenarios on a model. It is used to help optimize a model prior to prototyping and field testing but can be time consuming and expensive.
  • Factor of Safety
    • The factor of safety is how much stronger a system is than what it is expected to withstand. Example: If you have a swing that can hold 400 lbs., but you only expect someone to apply 200 lbs of force to that swing, then your factor of safety is 2.
  • Load
    • The load is the collection of forces that are being applied to an object
  • Thermal Cycling
    • A process in which the product goes from one temperature extreme to another over and over again. This helps detect failure points in the design and better estimate how long the product will last.
  • Impact Resistance
    • Can be interchanged with shock resistance, but we view it as the ability for the product to take a concentrated impact, such as getting struck by a hammer.
  • Shock Resistance
    • We define shock resistance as the ability for the product as a whole to absorb a system wide shock, such as passing a drop test.
  • Ingress Protection
    • A rating that determines how many or few particles (dust/liquids) can enter inside the product in a harmful way. This is commonly used to define how "waterproof" something is.

Electrical Engineering

  • Electronics Engineer
    • A discipline of electrical engineering, an electronics engineer focuses on things such as small circuits, PCBA design, and wireless communication as opposed to larger civil or industrial projects.
  • Hardware Engineer
    • Typically designs PCBA circuits, small components, and device firmware for computer systems. May produce diagnostic and production test programs.
  • Software Engineer
    • Typically designs software in the form of operating systems, interfaces, programs, and applications.
  • Printed Circuit Board Assembly
    • Also known as a PCBA, this is the hardware used to implement a given product schematic. It is comprised of a circuit board and soldered or connected components.
  • Flex Circuit
    • Like a PCBA, except instead of a rigid circuit board, the components are placed on a ribbon like, flexible circuit board.
  • Keep Out Area
    • This is an area within a PCBA that cannot have components or metal, typically relating to RF performance or mechanical fasteners.
  • Breadboard Circuit
    • This is typically a hand wired, bench top prototype that allows for testing of a circuit before implementing into a PCBA.


  • Form Study
    • Used to quickly evaluate the overall form, scale, and proportions of the product. Typically a single color and lacking in cosmetic detail.
  • Feasibility Study
    • A small study used to quickly evaluate a technical challenge or risk area prior to implementing in a larger design. This technique is used for risk management.
  • Proof of Concept Prototype
    • A working prototype used to prove the core functionality of a product concept is feasible. It always needs improvements and should be created early in the development process.
  • Appearance Model
    • A prototype that is used to simulate what a product might look like in production. It may have some basic moving parts but typically does not have much functionality for the purposes of cost reduction.
  • Verification Prototype
    • A verification prototype is used to verify the results of a round of detail design. This may also be referred to as an Engineering Prototype. These are highly functional, but less emphasis is given to appearance and cosmetic qualities.
  • Cosmetic Prototype
    • Also known as a Tradeshow Prototype. These prototypes are highly functional and highly cosmetic and are intended to be used for high visibility demonstrations and marketing opportunities.
  • Pre-Production Prototype
    • Constructed of the same materials and geometry as the production units and typically used to evaluate specific, manufacturing dependent design challenges prior to production.
  • Pilot Production
    • The first run of units from a manufacturer, typically 25 – 100. These are used to evaluate the manufactured design, quality, and yield.
  • Tooling
    • A non-recurring expense that involves the fabrication of tool or fixture used for the mass production of parts. This is commonly associated with injection molding and plastics manufacturing.
  • First Article
    • The first 1-10 units to come out of a tool or be produced. These parts are inspected and if acceptable are typically used for pilot production.

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In our next article, we'll review specific forms and methods of prototyping.