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Insights :: What is quality?

by , November 21, 2012

Insights :: What is quality?

In the world of carry, ‘quality’ is a word that gets used a lot. Probably too much. From brands promising ‘The Finest Quality’ to the constant debate about which countries produce the best quality craftsfolk, the word has been bent and manipulated until it looses any valuable meaning.

Thankfully, after a long slog of engineering school, I learned a definition that really helps:

Quality = Fitness for purpose

Yep, 5 years of an engineering degree, right there (stoked I spent the money). But let me actually try and communicate the power in that simple definition…

  • A Ferrari is a quality car if you’re driving race track laps. However if you feel like some off-roading, it’s about the worst quality you could get.
  • A Goruck GR1 is an awesome backpack, unless you’re trying to SCUBA dive with it, in which case it will be a sopping mess.

Insights :: What is quality?

To measure performance (fitness), you need to have defined your purpose. If you don’t bother to do that, you end up trying to please everybody.

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” – Bill Cosby

So, let’s say you define your purpose as helping uni students fill their first apartment with un-embarrassing furniture. You know they don’t have much coin, they care about the planet, and if they have a car, it will be small. Is IKEA all of a sudden looking like good quality furniture?

In the world of carry, an old school LV trunk is quality if you have a sherpa and private jet, but pretty terrible if you have luggage restrictions and an underground train to catch.

Insights :: What is quality?

This definition of quality gives you a filter with which to judge things, while also getting you to consider just who that backpack, essay or even kiss is designed for. It also helps you understand why the ‘brand’ is so important in helping find the right customer for the product. If your carry brand uses military imagery, but your zips don’t last outside of a sterile office space, you’re asking for quality issues.

It’s a nice definition, but probably not worth 5 years of uni…

Further reading: If you’ve never picked up a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, you should. It’s an amazing book in which the author explores the metaphysics of quality – kind of philosophy meets quality on a motorbike, and it’s a 5 star read.

Postscript: With some excellent discussion once again happening in the comments, we thought it was worth describing the ‘8 dimensions of quality‘, which is how many engineers further flesh out the concept of quality. Those dimensions are: Performance, Features, Reliability, Conformance, Durability, Serviceability, Aesthetics and Perception. As you can see, this simple word sure needs a lot of explaining!

A version of this post first appeared at Uncluttered White Spaces, a digital magazine about good ideas. We believe recycling is good.


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