Design as ‘quality’

Design is about quality.

Design is so loaded of a word, right!? Either it’s too emotional or too pedantic, with over-justified rationale that’s evolved into trendy buzzwords plastered on magazine covers (ahem, “design thinking”?). And still, in 2020, design is seen primarily as simply making things look sexy, exciting, glamorous. Pretty. Sigh.

However, quality is a word we all respond to, at intuitive and productive levels of execution, delivery, and service.

When we think of quality, we think of something that’s well-made, crafted with durability, solidity, strength. There’s an aesthetic dimension as well, conveying elegance or a poised balance of visual and tactile qualities. But not the only thing. This echoes the wisdom of Classical antiquity with the Golden Mean ratio and other examples of sacred geometry. It feels like it can stand the test of time.

In hi-tech sectors, the notion of QA or “quality assurance” is a standard phase of expertise in product development. At one company I led “Design QA” sessions, which involved verifying the accuracy of implementation by front-end engineers against the delivered and approved design specs. This has become a popular method at many places, since then. And I also helped lead a “quality” initiative with engineering and product leaders, which was my subtle code for “design-driven”, without getting caught up in the pre-ordained biases.

Hearing my words about improving our quality helped break the ice with code warriors and business suits alike, without any predisposed biases around the messy word “design” getting in each other’s way. Indeed, it’s a word that helped us connect and collaborate better. Quality is something we can agree upon. We all want to deliver something of quality, that we can be proud of. Who doesn’t?

However, what actually makes something be of high quality…well, that’s a whole other discussion! One pointer is to look at the brand qualities, UX models/patterns, and UI components being cohesively applied to create a product that respect’s the customer’s time and effort and money. Quality is a pathway to value that’s tangible and distinctive.

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