A reasonable question would be “why did I write this book?” For many (60?) years I have been interested in what makes some products of industry “good”, and others “bad”. I have been involved in designing them, making them, selling them, buying them, and using them. I guess I wanted to say some things about product quality that I think do not receive as much attention as they should by people who make them and buy them
. I have not heard many arguments against striving for high quality in products. We all like low prices. But low prices and quality are not necessarily opposed. Since products can vary in quality, why not make them as “good” as possible for their price? In fact, in pursuit of manufacturing quality, many have found that products cost less to manufacture as their quality improved. And since quality is an overall measure of value, prices may be more elastic than we think. From my viewpoint, improving product quality is the only feasible long term success path for those of us who furnish products to our growing populations and are constrained by finite resources and subject to rising expectations.
One of the difficulties in attaining higher quality, is that the people involved in designing, manufacturing, selling, buying, maintaining, and disposing of industrial products see aspects of quality that pertain to their own function, experience, values, and sensitivity, but not always the overall picture. Engineers are sensitive to performance, but sometimes have to be reminded about cost, aesthetic appeal, and human fit. Business people are sensitive to profit, especially in the short term, and are comfortable with marketing and promotion, but sometimes less sensitive to the importance of such things as advanced product development, continual improvement, reliability and serviceability, and “truth in advertising”. Buyers and users are sometimes suckers for features they will never use and often overly-influenced by promotional material, fad and fashion, and short-term experience (the bounce on the mattress in the store). They are also often not as concerned with the lifetime and dependability of the product as they might later think they should have been. Nor do they think as much as they might about why they love some products and hate others.
The Good Product, Bad Products book is based not only on my experience and thoughts, but on courses I have taught at Stanford, beginning with courses in the Product Design Program, then a cooperative program between the Mechanical Engineering and Art departments, continuing with a Course entitled Aesthetics and Technology, taught in the Science, Technology, and Society program, and culminating in the course I began some 25 five years ago in the Engineering School at Stanford that has the same title as the book and still lives on taught by Professor David Beach, using my notes. The book is based on the notes, and focuses on a number of aspects of quality that I believe to be very important, but that for a number of reasons are sometimes given short shrift. These topics are shown in the table of contents of the book here.