In this age of economic swirl and uncertainty, quality is more important than ever. As people decide where and how to spend their precious dollars, I think they're going to vote in favor of things of high quality, and hence greater meaning. It's a good time to be a design thinker who intuits quality, and the great news is that lessons in the do's and don'ts of quality surround us each and every day. It's relatively easy to enroll in a continuing education course in the art of bringing good stuff to life — all you have to do is to be mindful in your daily journey. They constantly surround us, these simple pleasures.
When I feel something is of high quality, I literally feel it — my world calms down, and I experience an emotional response which is not unlike the feeling you get upon settling in to a champagne jacuzzi.. ah, this is nice, this is good. I can look at a high-quality object for unreasonable amounts of time, entranced by the quality of the details that make up the whole, as well as with the whole itself. Paying attention to quality is of prime importance to those of us dedicated to bringing cool stuff to life; knowing what goodness feels like is a key enabler of having a strong point of view, and it also keeps us from settling on the mediocre or the convenient. It's good to look and to know.
And what do I mean by quality? I'm not talking about process control and six-sigma methodologies, as much as respect them when used at the right time and place. Nor am I conflating quality with high prices; the realm of yuppie-driven quality is a place where price and opinion leaders combine to dictate what's hot and what's not to a club of self-selected consumers, and the value proposition there is nothing if not hollow. The quality I speak of has to do with materials, fit, proportions, workmanship, and care of assembly and upkeep. It is unavoidably a function of what something is in the world. In short, it has much more to do with the visceral (it looks and smells right) and behavioral (it works right) elements of design than it does the reflective (the meaning is right).
Taken in mindfully, life offers us a continual flow of lessons in quality. No matter if you are experiencing the built environment or nature, taking the time to really look around will deliver a constant stream of opportunities to think about quality. Because this isn't about money, I don't think you have to be in a high-zoot environment to see interesting stuff. Sometimes a lack of quality can be as instructive as its presence.
Just the other weekend I made a quick trip to my local grocery store, and happened across two wonderful chances to feel, hear, and see quality at work.
The first was this charming 1959 Porsche 356:
It was in beautiful shape, likely restored, but not over-the-top
perfect. I spent a few minutes sitting across the street so that I could
admire its proportions in profile. Why am I the only person admiring this thing? Come on, people! An open driver's-side window
allowed me to admire the deep red leather interior, as well as the
creamy steering wheel, a color combination which works wonderfully. I
waited long enough for the owner to come out (by which time I was
distracted by the bike below) so that I could hear the motor start up.
It cranked up immediately, with zero smoke or stumbling, and its
exhaust note was a smooth mix of metallic crispness and baritone song.
It's educational to experience a machine in good tune. Quality.
Parked right across the street was this bike:
What sublime aesthetics. I love the way the metal fenders exactly match the arc of the wheels, the artful way the side marker lamps are positioned, and the highly considered color scheme. Everything is just so. I find bikes fascinating because they are endlessly customizable. Cars, and to a lesser extent, motorcycles, must meet regulatory concerns to be considered roadworthy, but with a bike, you can go to town and make it just as you see it in your mind's eye. Without any badges in evidence, I couldn't ascertain the make of this bike, but looking at the compontents and accessories, I'd wager that the owner is a frequent shopper at Rivendell and Jitensha, both local purveyors of (extreme) quality bicycle paraphernalia.
The simple pleasures of quality: feel it, imbibe it, know it.