Like a lot of designers, I have struggled with the term industrial design over the years. The term seems a little vague. Sometimes people ask us if we design factories. A look at conversations over in the Core77 discussions forums shows I'm not alone. Check out this 80 reply thread on the forum that was started back in 2007. The term doesn't seem have the weight of history that Architecture has. It doesn't have the contemporary feel of the term Interaction Design. It does't have the specificity that some of our sub disciplines have like furniture design and footwear design, and it doesn't have the sexiness of transportation design or entertainment concept design.
In reaction we have flirted with other terms like product design, which has it's own set of issues. It seems a bit clinical to me and doesn't touch on the breadth of what we do beyond the product. Adding to the confusion, the term product design has been co-opted in some cases by mechanical engineers and app designers.
Over the last 15 years, as I've grown from a staff designer to a design director, creative director, and now chief design officer at Sound United, I've now started to come full circle. What I do now as a CDO of course involves identifying user segments, defining brand parameters, conceptualizing product opportunities, designing physical and digital products, packaging, web-experiences, physical retail and event spaces. It also involves designing interdisciplinary work flows, concept development processes, and organizational structures. Suddenly the term Industrial design seems to fit. Our education in user-centered design, problem identification, creative solution finding, implementation strategy mixed with our desire to often find the most aesthetic and clean solution makes us just as suited to designing the perfect ergonomic task chair as it does designing the company that makes the chair.
Industrial designers can in fact be designers of industry. So after 15 years of trying to dodge the term, I've actually come to embrace it. I am an industrial designer.