What is Product Design Management?

Product designer ancestors at work

Product Design Management (PDM) is one of the most important elements in the successful business of designing innovative products for production. Unfortunately, most companies do not really understand the importance of PDM or how to properly implement it. In this post, I will define what PDM is and distinguish it from Product Design.

In order to understand what PDM is, we first have to look at the history of product design and the evolution of the product designer. According to Wikipedia, “Product design is the process of creating a new product to be sold by a business to its customers.” That’s a pretty good definition. However, to understand the nature of today’s product designer, we have to go back to the origins of product design.

Early Product Designers

Let’s go back 2.5 million years to the prehistoric tool-maker, the ancestor of today’s product designer. Tool-making was a significant step in our evolution and it’s one of the main advantages that differentiate us, Homo Sapiens, from the animal kingdom. The caveman tool-maker made tools to extend his physical abilities – to improve his and his tribe’s abilities for fighting, hunting, eating, carrying and so forth. The sole effort and focus of the tool-maker’s work was on the product and the production process. There was nothing else to deal with.

The next step in the product design evolution was the artisan or craftsman. Artisans (such as blacksmith, carpenter and potter) were the dominant designers and producers of consumer products prior to the Industrial Revolution. In some respects, there were no significant differences between the artisan’s and the tool-maker’s ways of working. In both cases, design and production were integrated into a single process, carried out by the same individual. Hands-on skills were the “designer’s” most important capability, and each product was manually produced and controlled by the master himself. The product and the production process were the center of the “business” for the artisan, as well as for the tool-maker.

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