When did quality control die?

As a young graduate engineer, I joined the industry to find soothing sets of standards that define almost every component, subsystem, and design practice. Born from decades of experience that strictly filters what works well and what doesn’t, these standards minimize the number of design and construction errors as well as the number of operational errors.

But those were the days of the drawing office, when design manuals, specifications and rigorous testing were the norm. Everything from the choice of materials to the human interface was not only well understood, but controlled, cross-checked and well-defined.

I’m not sure when it became obvious to me that all this “quality assurance” showed signs of disintegration, but I suspect that with the advent of computers and software, it was easier to choose. The almost complete freedom gradually given to people, together with the rapid acceleration of technology, saw many controls and restrictions gradually “emancipated” to become things of the past.

Certainly many physical standards and controls remain in place, but as we approach the consumer, everything seems more and more loose and out of control. For examples, look no further than the range of computing devices, their physical form, operating systems, applications, icons, fonts, choice of colors and styles, not to mention white and brown appliances and vehicles. Not that I live in fear and trepidation of another device, operating system, operating system upgrade, but I’m really outraged by the time it takes to adapt to another seemingly unnecessary layout change with seemingly random categorization of functions, menu location and positioning.

I also find these icons and text increasingly annoying, which are so small on all my devices that they can’t be easily decoded while on the go or in low light. Are the designers getting younger and enjoying a 20:20 look and perfect color perception, or is it just a spread of ignorance and lack of education, thought and guidance?

Just think of the number of company conferences and presentations you’ve experienced that you couldn’t read the slides because of some ridiculously small font and / or color choices. Among my favorites are blue on purple, green on yellow, red on orange, white on very pale green and white on yellow, all accompanied by some apologetic comment in a row – I’m sorry you can’t read this slide. I have to say that this usually makes me feel sorry for the author, I obviously don’t have the intelligence to look at their slides, and I quickly go back to clearing my email!

I can only assume that designers never test their projects under operating conditions

More recently, this disease of design failure has spread to vehicles and household goods such as televisions and hi-fi systems. Even with different models from the same manufacturer, you can find GPS systems that cover the excellent, in terms of clarity and ease of use, to garbage and even dangerous, with unnecessary complexity, text and icons that you may or may not be able to read or recognize , bad color combinations and contrast, which contradicts the understanding at a glance.

I can only assume that designers never actually test their designs in operational conditions and maybe even worse, no one checks their work. There seems to be no quality control and assurance, no judgment of what works and what doesn’t.

What these companies and designers don’t seem to really understand is that you and I will carefully test these products and try everything in real time, and that will affect our purchasing choices based on what works. for us, not what is convenient for some excluded contract designers.

Peter Cochrane OBE is Professor of Sensitive Systems at Suffolk University


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