What is quality? This term is bandied about all the time, especially if one is in business. Everyone says they produce and sell quality products but quality itself is never defined.
Which makes it difficult of course when one talks about Quality.
In manufacturing particularly (and this is quite common to Penang since every other person seems to work with some large multinational company which produces machinery and PC products), this term puts everyone into increasing quality mode because ‘quality drives productivity’.
I was talking to Cecilia, a management consultant friend who trains middle management of MNCs about quality when this topic came up.
We were both attending a rather boring talk last Sunday and halfway, the speaker just lost us as we couldn’t get what she was going on and on about. So when one is bored and a friend is just next to us, I do the next best thing – I engage her in some dialogue.
Cecilia is in her 40s, a mom to 3 grown up children, and a management consultant on her own. She had worked in the same line before this but decided to strike out on her own about 5 years ago. She seems to be enjoying her freedom and flexibility as a consultant!
So I ask her what type of training she conducts.
Quality training or ISO 9000 stuff, she replies.
I’m often intrigued by new concepts and ideas. While Quality is not an alien idea to me, I am eager to hear her definition.
It’s ambiguous and yet everyone talks about it as if they knew it intimately!
What is Quality, Anyway?
For some, like Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, quality is ‘the result of care’.
Peter Drucker defines it as: “Quality in a product or service is not what the supplier puts in. It is what the customer gets out and is willing to pay for.”
The American Society of Quality gives a technical definition: “In technical usage, quality can have two meanings: 1) the characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs; 2) a product or service free of deficiencies.”
Just like the concept of ‘think out of the box’ which is an eponym for ‘try another not so lame idea’. I would say that people who often harangue others to ‘think of the box’ don’t know two bits at all. Just like people who keep telling others to ‘be creative’. What is creativity anyway?
“While everyone can say, we deliver Quality Products, no one can say what Quality is. Actually Quality is a set of pre-agreed and pre-determined requirements from the customers’ point of view.”
I thought about this for a while.
Interesting way of breaking down the nebulous concept!
“So for example, this brochure.”
She picked up the colourful A4 sized brochure in front of us.
“The customer tells the printing company that he wants this title here, the main content here and the colours are such and such. If the printing company meets these criteria, the customer would have a quality product. So quality is determined by the customer.”
So if the product meets the expectation of the customer, it can be said to be of Quality.
But is this only applicable for MNCs involving in ISO 9000 certification? Because I know Cecilia knows her stuff but hers is mainly in the field of training factory folks to meet certain certification.
I think about this because our business is the web design and e-business consultancy. My question is, can quality be determined by individuals who have no inkling of how the online world works? For the Internet in general and websites in particular work in ways which can be hard to understand.
Why the Web Is Absolutely Different
Many people think that one can design one’s website any way one wants, just like a brochure.
“I want the picture to be here, and the text here.”
Most people assume the printed brochure and a website is the same except that they are slightly different media. Both have colours, photos and text. Both are for consumers to view and read.
But that’s where they’re wrong. Graphic designers do not understand that the web is not like the printer’s. You can tell a printer the colours your customer likes. You may tell the printer the customer likes his business card to be glossy.
That’s why graphic designers are often stumped when they try to apply what they know about design to the online world.
The online world works with a different set of rules. The playground, technically speaking, isn’t the same any more.
In printing, you can use whatever colours you like, as long as the printer can print those hues and shades for you.
On the web, you have to stick with web-safe colours or colours that work well with browsers. I won’t go into why colours are so crucial to be web-safe – find out more by reading this highly detailed explanation of “All You Need to Know About Web-safe Colours”.
Also, if you’re used to the printing world, a high resolution photo is a must. Otherwise, your printed matter would look awfully blurry/pixelated/grainy.
On the web, start with a clear photo but of the smallest size possible (that’s in KB and not MB, ok). Reason? The web page needs to load and if you plonk a huge and heavy photo on your website, would you wonder why no one waits around for the website to show off its goodies?
The Web Is Not Flat…
Experienced graphic artists and designers mainly get confused when they decide to shift gears and move to the web medium. On the web, there’s programming and coding issues when one is designing websites (that is, unless one just fires up the website design software Dreamweaver).
You must contend with search engines, how they search, what ‘food’ they’re eyeing, how to give them what they need.
You must contend with how people interact with websites online, their patience levels (actually everyone is impatient about websites!), their ability to complete tasks online (many websites ask for unnecessary info which they won’t ever use anyway so why waste asking?) and lots more.
A Website Is Not a Book
Also, people don’t read a website like a book. For books, you start from the first page and move along. You may skip some parts but usually it makes more sense to read from page 1 to page 100, instead of the other way round.
For websites, people can enter it from other pages, not necessarily your beautiful Splash page (are these even in use now?) or your gorgeous Home page. I could find your website by clicking a link from another website or blog. I could find it while searching on a search engine. I could enter the website from the Contact page even. I could read your “About” page first before hopping off to your “Products” page. I could even skip the major pages and drill down into some obscure web page. I may even get an Error 404 page.
What you see is sometimes the same graphic design mindset pasted onto the web medium. For example, websites made up of whole pieces of JPEG! How not to fail miserably when the designer has not grasped the fundamentals of the web!
Anyway, these are valid questions to ask especially if you are a designer intending to make that leap from graphic to web.
Or if you are looking to build a website for your business, ask if the web designer really knows his stuff.
You may be surprised sometimes!