Which qualities are valuable?

By phongalerie.com via flickr.com
By phongalerie.com via flickr.com

The philosophy of ‘good enough’ is about cost versus value. There is great benefit all round in objects that are ‘good enough’ rather than the very best they can be.

I’m more than happy to trade high end features and market leading superior quality – naturally at a high price – for qualities that are more important to me: portability, ease of use, and even, economical replaceability.

Sometimes inexpensive is exactly the quality that I am looking for. A digital SLR camera for a few thousand dollars would – I am sure – take fantastic photos. A cheap, point-and-click for a hundred bucks – less fantastic photos. But, and here’s the decider – I can throw a cheap camera in my bag at the last minute. I can grab it, chuck it around, drop it occasionally if it comes down to it. If it gets damaged or broken, it’s a hundred bucks, I can replace it.

If I mistreat a high end DSLR – that’s a disaster. I’d rather have something I can adequately capture photos on the spur of the moment with a knockabout almost disposable camera than have to cherish and protect the investment I have made in a semi-Pro that I might be able to capture something with, if I’m willing to risk it.

The same mass market forces at work with recorded music are at work everywhere. Audiophiles decried the MP3 format for the poor audio reproduction – in the same way as they slated CDs for their clinical audio reproduction. The market spoke, CDs were easier to handle, easier to deal with. The Mass Market preferred the quality of “easy to use” over the quality of “perfect reproduction”. The MP3 format takes over – a still poorer reproduction of the original sound, but with an even easier usability profile – rip, copy, distribute, share, transfer from device to device.

Yes, the audio is less than “CD quality” remember how we all compromised on the richness and depth of sound when we downgraded from the ‘perfect’ reproductive qualities of vinyl to frequency clipped CDs? but the slimline CD wallet with forty albums that replaced the bulky record bag with a dozen vinyl LPs, remember… has been replaced by the MP3player of choice, with hundreds, thousands of tracks in the palm of your hand.

I’m sure that at the turn of the 20th Century the same debate raged over the poor audio quality of the gramophone record over the chamber ensemble.  Usability won out – as fragile and cumbersome as Berliner‘s first five inch gramophone records were in 1892, they were certainly more portable and flexible than hiring a group of musicians.

In the music industry, the body of consumers who valued the portability of a recording repeatedly won out over those who valued the  accuracy, but there is still a place for the live musician, the vinyl record and the CD, alongside the digital formats.

Meeting the needs of the market means deconstructing what “high quality” means. Quality is an abstraction, an amalgamation of multiple desirable attributes of a product or service. One size does not fit all. Different consumers have different priorities, and different needs.

Which needs can you satisfy?

jon m wilson Written by:

As half of the team behind 101projects101days.com, I am a serial starter of things, beginner of projects. I work in bits and in bytes, in words and paragraphs; I work in wood, metal, and paper, in fabric and in leather; I work in fits and in starts. Most of all I work intermittently and inconsistently.

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