In undergraduate engineering programs, recent emphasis has been placed on a more holistic, interdisciplinary approach to engineering education. Some programs now teach product design within the context of the market, extending the curriculum to topics outside of scientific labs and computational analysis. However, it is unknown to what extent engineering students already understand the systems and contextual factors associated with product design, and also what characteristics or experiences have led students to these ways of thinking. This study analyzes survey and concept map data collected from 154 students in a third-year engineering design course. The aim is to understand how student backgrounds and experiences influence their mental models of product design. Data were gathered from surveys on student backgrounds and experiences, along with concept maps that were generated by the students at the beginning of a product design course. The concept maps were analyzed in a quantitative manner for structural and thematic elements. The findings show that several background attributes influence student conceptions of product design. Academic major appeared to have the largest impact on a variety of variables. Additionally, prior work experience, enrollment in a master’s program, and the presence of an engineering role model at home all showed significant impacts on design conceptions. By analyzing and understanding how the unique backgrounds of students lead to differences in thought, educators can adjust their curricula to more effectively teach design concepts to students of various backgrounds and experiences.