Defining Quality at 4.00 a.m.

When you’re sleep deprived all sorts of things occupy your thoughts

What is quality?

I was struggling to get to sleep one night last week, and one of the many weird thoughts rattling around in my semi-sane brain was: What makes something a quality product, is it a surfeit of features, or is it an absence of weaknesses?

This is fairly typical of the mundane musings that my mind thinks are particularly philosophical at 4.00 a.m. If I had just woken from a particularly disturbing dream then my thoughts would no doubt be instantly occupied by the contents of that prior dream, e.g. zombies/biker gangs/suddenly being back at school and naked/suddenly being in front of zombie biker gangs and naked…you know the sort of thing.

But I hadn’t been asleep, I had been lying there awake for hours, and I couldn’t shake the question of quality out of my head. Rather than dismiss it I’m going to give it a little breathing space, because it repeatedly returns to my thoughts. So let’s say it’s 4.00 a.m. again, and I’m lying on my back in bed mulling this question, of the two camps: Is a quality product thoroughly featured, or is it unspectacular, simple and solid?

The first of these could be known as the “No Guts No Glory” product. The designers threw everything at it, it’s the Christmas Tree overburdened with baubles, there’s a button for everything, levers and pulleys and winches and switches. The manual is 1000 pages long and bursting at the seams. The product has functionality you’ll still be discovering five years from now, and they sell them in every colour under the rainbow and more besides. It’s so thorough it’s intimidating, as it confidently sits there.

The second of these could be known as the “Get The Basics Right” product. It does few things, but does them well, less is more. It unashamedly eschews a manual, in its place a single piece of A4 paper with a ‘Quick Start Guide’ in 8 languages. On the discrete, minimal casing there are just two buttons, and you’re pretty sure one of those turns it on and off. It’s so pure it’s intimidating, as it self-assuredly sits there.

I didn’t have an answer at 4.00 a.m., and I don’t have one now. I guess quality is somewhere in between. I really must get more sleep.