Designing-in Quality

iStock_000006369698XSmallQuality is a word that does not seem to be banded around as much as it used to be.  In my experience the industry seems to go through cycles, or fads where certain initiatives come and go.  I suspect that this is linked to economic climate more than anything else – in the ’80s quality initiatives were rolled-out across Corporations from the very top down and it was not uncommon for multinationals to give training of some kind from the executives down to the line operatives.  Some large companies would have cascaded training to tens of thousands of people, making this a very expensive initiative that is not so affordable in these leaner times.

I was always taught that the definition of quality is “fitness for purpose”.  Is, then, a Rolls-Royce a high quality car?  Instinctively we will all say yes.  It might be just the ticket on the roads of Dubai but if you are travelling across Arctic tundra in you may be inclined to choose a different vehicle.  I have quite a few watches – including some that are from premium Swiss makers – but the watch I like to wear the most is a ¬£70 diver with a quartz movement.  I only change the time twice a year unlike my automatic Omega that needs re-setting on Monday mornings; it has rugged construction with mineral glass unlike vintage watches and I’m not afraid to wear it absolutely anywhere: on holiday, in the garden, at the pool, on the beach etc.  It is, therefore, a watch that it extremely fit for my purposes and therefore of high quality.

It seems then that a high quality design is the one that does the job perfectly …. not excessively but just well enough.  What about “delighters”, then?  We all like to incorporate a little extra to delight the customer: to not just meet their needs but to exceed them in some way that they had not imagined.  To “delight” and to “over-deliver” are not the same thing as the former is an additional benefit that was not foreseen without an excess of anything (usually cost) whereas the latter is going beyond that necessary to satisfy and is somewhat wasteful.

Being able to produce designs that are high quality therefore requires an in-depth understanding of the customer’s stated needs & constraints and this must be determined at the very outset, usually through a personal site visit to see for yourself and some thorough Q&A to tease-out the requirements (and critically not the customer’s perceived solutions).  It follows that Quality is not something that is bolted on at the end of the development but crucially is something that you embark on from the very beginning, starting with a thorough understanding of the stated project goals.

To produce a delighter goes a whole step further, as this requires a true understanding of the client’s unstated needs and desires.  The trick is doing this without compromising on the stated requirements such as cost, schedule or functionality; as there is no point in having a design which delights in some respects and yet fails to deliver against all basic requirements.

At Warley Design our time-honoured development process features a Requirement Specification phase at the start of the project and regular check-points where the compliance to specifications are monitored and assured.


Warley Design offers mechanical design, engineering and product development services to a broad range of industries. If you have a development programme that we can help you with please contact us.


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