Perceived Quality
 

"The details are not the details. They make the design."

Charles Eames

 
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Perceived Quality, A Definition

Perceived Quality is the impression of excellence that a customer experiences about a product, brand or business, derived through sight, sound, touch, and scent.

It is the customer’s perception of a product’s reliability and robustness, the impression of care and craftsmanship invested in its manufacture, the sense of richness and strength of the materials used, the evident fine attention to detail, and the feeling of the depth of engineering behind the design.

This is quite separate from actual reliability and robustness, attributes that are vital for a product to be competitive, but not characteristics that will distinguish it as special, or propel it into the "premium" segment.

In a world where consumers are increasingly being offered functional, reliable, feature laden products, smart businesses are focusing on perceived quality to transform functionally competitive products into more desirable, premium products, for which higher prices can be commanded.

How Perceived Quality Works

A customer's perception of the quality of a product, brand or business is predominately the result of subconscious thought. Most people will have an intrinsic ability to determine a product’s quality from looking, feeling and listening to it. Often, an opinion is formed in a matter of minutes or even seconds. 

For example, imagine viewing a new car in a showroom for the first time. Within the first few moments, you will be able to judge if the product is of high quality or not.

You will see the luster of the paint finish, the alignment of the panels, the sparkle of the brightwork, the elegance of the design treatments.

You will feel the fluidity of the door handle movement, the solidity of the controls, the smoothness of the interior materials, the softness of the armrests.

You will hear the precision of the door mechanisms, the thud on closure of the glove box door, the harmony of the audible tones.

All of these sensory inputs will allow you to subconsciously determine if you are assessing a vehicle of superior quality that is worthy of a price premium.

Understanding perception and dissecting each sensory input is the first step in designing products that will not just satisfy but delight all of the senses and give the customer that initial "wow".

My name is Marcus Roffey. For the last 16 years, I have specialized in the field of perceived quality, working in conjunction with business leaders and their product designers, engineers and marketing executives, in multiple regions and markets. I have helped them understand, define and implement high levels of perceived quality in their products, from initial concept through to production delivery. 

Marcus Roffey, Perceived Quality specialist

 
 

The Hallmarks of Premium Design

High levels of perceived quality in a product are a result of many different design and engineering attributes. There are several hallmarks of premium design that can be utilized by product design teams to create a product that looks, feels, and sounds special and is superior to competing products. A few of them are detailed below.

Premium Materials and Obvious Authenticity

Premium materials are a hallmark of premium design. Genuine leather, wood, and metal have a higher perceived quality than equivalent plastics (even though plastics may function just as well). More important than selecting premium materials however, is how the materials are communicated to the customer; they have to be obviously authentic. 

These Bang & Olufsen headphones have a high quality appearance and feel. The materials are premium, but they are very obviously genuine too; the result of thoughtful detail design. 

The metallic elements look authentic, as indicated by the bright, contrasting beveled edges that catch the light. The turned aluminium components also display high-contrast, bright hot-spots of light. The sharp edge radii, unreproducable in plastic, make the surfaces look and feel metallic. In case there is any doubt, the metallic parts are cold to the touch, just as you would expect from metal.

The genuine leather strap has a few tricks to play too; the buttery soft feel, exposed edge accentuating the nap of the hide, and the grain all communicate their provenance.

Get these details wrong, and premium materials that are not so carefully designed can betray their origins, looking and feeling much lower grade. For instance, genuine metal with a poorly selected paint finish, wood veneers with too much curvature and gloss, and leathers with too heavy a grain can all look, feel and sound like much poorer quality, synthetic alternatives.

Premium materials and obvious authenticity, hallmarks of premium design.

 
 

"Premium materials and obvious authenticity, hallmarks of premium design."

 

 
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Simplicity & Elegance

Simple, elegant lines, and clean, careful details are hallmarks of premium design. This philosophy results in a calm and ordered feel to products. When there is little to detract from the premium materials and the simple lines, they become more evident. 

Timeless designs are often simple. Iconic architecture is often the result of just a few clean lines. The most premium electronics often have the quietest appearance. The most valuable jewelry is often the most elegant. 

This Mujjo laptop case follows this design philosophy. There's supple leather, soft felt, metallic studs, discreet stitching, and very little else; no convoluted lines, no excessive stitch details, no fussy straps. The design appears to have been boiled down to the key elements that make it work: premium materials, uncluttered lines, sturdy construction, and thoughtful functionality.

This design philosophy is not followed by all premium brands. For instance, modern Mercedes-Benz interiors have a lot going on. Busier designs have some advantages; they tend to be more conspicuous and create more initial visual impact. This can be important when catering to the demands of some markets.

When working at Aston Martin, we strived to create products that would be beautiful, clean, confident, and just as appealing 20 or 30 years after they were designed. The adage we tried to follow was "Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away". It's a sound philosophy to achieve a high quality, timeless, premium design.

 
 

"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

 
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Craftsmanship

Craftsmanship is the application of skill and craft in the creation of a product. It is the execution of high levels of attention to detail to achieve perfection.  Evidence of fine craftsmanship is a premium design hallmark.

Traditionally, craftsmanship would be associated with the way a product is manufactured; the craftsman applying their artisanship expertly to create a bespoke product, much like this David Reeves suit. In the modern world of mass manufacturing, the term can equally apply to the craft invested in a product's design or engineering.

The craftsman may be the user interface designer, who toils over the legibility, simplicity, and harmony of their icons. It may be the switch engineer who ensures the sound of their switch, the distance it travels, and the tactile feedback are all perfectly tuned. It may be the manufacturing engineer who designs their assembly process to ensure uniformity of production, to the highest levels of accuracy and precision. 

Craftsmanship is a premium design hallmark, not just because it delivers precision in the details, but also because it communicates a skill and passion for quality that individuals have had, to create something superior and unique. 

 
 

"Craftsmanship communicates a skill and passion for quality, that individuals have had, to create something unique."

 
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Just a taster...

A customer's perception of quality of a product, brand, or business is a result of many complex elements, far more than are detailed here, and these are intended as just a taster of what can contribute to that look, feel, and sound of premium quality.

Agree? Disagree? Got a counter point? I'd love to know your thoughts.