What we don't talk about when we talk about quality...
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As a designer, I’ve caught myself pushing for quality and not having a great articulation for why it matters. “It bothers people” and “it degrades trust,” I’ve said. As a collective, we haven’t done a great job defending it against speed and business objectives. We’ve even gotten a reputation of being perfectionists and worrying too much about the details that don’t matter.
But I’ve been mulling on it, and I think I’ve got it…
Quality adds value to digital products. It makes them worth using and ultimately, paying more for.
If you think about physical objects, we all understand the impact of quality. But for some reason, we’re not used to talking about software this way. Let’s try a few examples! You’ll get what I mean.
It’s the difference between a poly-blend sweater that’s itchy and pills or a cashmere one that’s soft and lasts a lifetime…
…sitting on a plastic lawn chair versus lounging in an Eames chair…
…or eating a frozen fettuccine alfredo instead of a freshly made one — handmade pasta and all.
See? We know what quality means to us! We feel it. We know why high quality things cost more and we know how it influences our choices. In the physical world, it’s the difference between a $15.00 price tag and a $150 one.
So, quality adds value to things. Stunning visual design, incredibly smooth animations, precise and predictable interactions, pixel-perfection, snappy load times… they all contribute to the value of software. Like what fresh ingredients and presentation do for food, or what solid wood and a great finish do for furniture.
At the same time software’s a little different: one piece of software usually has a lot of different features and each product doesn’t have nearly as many competitors (as say, a chair). So, software can’t just differentiate on quality alone.
Most of the value is going to come from its functionality: the problems it solves for people and how well it solves those problems.
But it is to say that getting the details right is worth something. People spend so much of their time using software. In the long run, these are the bits that make it worth paying a higher price for, worth lingering longer in, worth keeping around.
Two different chairs can both be successful in the task of giving you a place to sit.
But it doesn’t mean that people experience both in the same way, or enjoy them equally, or would pay the same price for them. Software quality is similar — you won’t see it in a single success metric, but your users will feel it, know it, and evaluate it.
Note — When I talk about software here, I’m mostly talking about software where software is the product people are buying. It’s harder to advocate for quality in the same way for products where revenue is ads-based or through retail sales (see: e-commerce).