Principles of Quality in Industrial Design

Extensive research on the quality of industrial products formed the basis of the redesign of the conventional inkjet printer and the creation of a set of guidelines to ensure quality of industrially designed and manufactured products.

As industrial designers, are we aware of the responsibility we have when creating a product which could be produced in millions of units using modern manufacturing methods?

This was the guiding question which had us explore the historic importance of quality in man-made objects. From the work of artisans in medieval guilds to the effects of planned obsolescences on product lifecycles. The result of this research led to the Quality dilemma, a complex map of interdependencies of the principles of modern day economics and consumer behaviour which rewards cheap products with short lifecycles.

Based on the research we then established 6 Principles of Quality to support industrial designers in creating high quality products and implemented these in the innovative redesign of a conventional inkjet printer.


Influences on Product quality - A historic view

Medieval guilds

Because agricultural production increases, craft & trade activities start to separate from it. Specialised artisans are now organising in guilds, advancing the quality of their products (cobblers, glaziers. etc)

Manufactories

In the Renaissance period, artisans of different specialisations collaborate to manufacture more complex products in a series of work processes (porcelain, muskets, etc.)

Industrial Revolution

Craftsmanship is replaced by untrained workers and machines which increases productivity, standardises products, but separates the design from the production (textile industry, steam engines, etc.)

Century of Plastics

Plastics revolutionised products due their nearly unlimited applications and low manufacturing costs. However, these properties paired with global capitalism also caused plastics to be used inappropriately, resulting in inferior products, pollution and waste.

Plastic mechanical components of a 'disposable' inkjet printer

"... the strategy of gradual quality deterioration is usually rewarded by the markets with lower costs, increasing sales and thus increasing profits rather than punished by customer churn."

"Geplante Obsoleszenz" a report published by the German Green Party, available as a pdf here

The quality Dilemma:

This schematic shows the landscape of interdependent macroeconomic and microeconomic causalities and consumer behaviour that influence a complex concept like product quality. On one side is an economic system fuelled by permanent growth and on the other side a customer, influenced by price and marketing, rather than suitability of lifetime of a product.

Principles of Quality

We formulated 6 principles of Quality as guideline for industrial designers to create products that are optimised in the following categories:

  1. Functionality

  2. Usability

  3. Lifetime

  4. Maintainability

  5. Aesthetic

  6. Ethic

Design of a printer

To demonstrate how these principles could be implemented, we applied them in our redesign of the inkjet printer. We chose the printer because it unites so many principles of poor product quality in a single product:

  • Skewed value: the price of the machine is less than of its consumables

  • Disposable: replacing the entire device is cheaper than repairing a single component

  • Consumer lock-in: proprietary ink limits user choice

  • Saturated market: marketing and price are the dominant sales strategies

1. Functionality

This printer can be installed on a surface or mounted to a wall.

2. Usability

A minimal haptic user interface allows for the most needed controls with immediate feedback, everything else can be set up using a computer.

3. Life time

An aluminium and polymer construction provides an adequate housing and the 'solid-state' printing technology has a low failure rate.

4. Repairability

A modular construction allows for the repair and replacement of individual components rather than replacing the whole device.

5. Aesthetic

This printer is constructed from honest materials and has a timeless and humble appearance without overstatement.

6. Ethic

Ethical considerations should be part of every single principle of quality, the refillable ink cartridges are just one way to reduce waste.

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German Federal Eco Design Award

This project was awarded the German Federal Eco Design Award and exhibited in multiple locations in Germany. You can read more about it here.

Project Details

This was my bachelor thesis project of the Industrial Design BA Programme at the University of Applied Sciences, Schwäbisch Gmünd. It was complete in a team of two with Johanna Gedeon.