A standard for quality in consumer goods

Henry Ford said of the Model T:

“I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”

A good baseline to hold any consumer product to (adjusted for cultural evolution of course).  It would be an interesting experiment to envision a world where the merchantability and regulation of consumer goods were based on statements like these as opposed to the primatial and easily circumvented rule languages used by American law.  Let’s try re-writing Ford’s words updated for a modern mobile phone company:

“I will build a phone for everyone. It will be flexible enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to use and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best people to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no one making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with their family the blessing of hours of pleasure in communicating with the world.”

Have you ever seen a phone that lives up to that standard? I haven’t.  If you think you have, remember that a phone isn’t a phone without a network, so be sure to apply the policies and behavior of a wireless provider to your evaluation.  Also remember that everyone who bought a Model T owned it, so when considering “so low in price” that you’re looking at the unlocked, no- contract version of the phone.

This is fun, let’s try it with something else; how about a 3D printer?

“I will build a printer for the student, the teacher and the stay-at-home tweaker; a printer for anyone who has something to build. It will have the build and materials capacity to print anything that could be needed by the average family, but small enough for the individual to operate and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best people to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no one making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with their family the blessing of hours of pleasure in bringing new things into the world.”

It’s interesting to see what changes and what stays the same.  In particular the idea of using good materials and labor were important to Ford and those values hold up today as well.  Interestingly enough, these are often the first thing to be compromised in modern products.

The other thing that stands out to me is the family.  In modern terms I think this can be expanded beyond the biological family (that’s another blog post) but I think the important thing to take away from this is the idea that a good product is good not only for the individual, but for those around them as well.  This is another area many modern products fail to address or overlook altogether.

These two examples are focused on technology only because that is my area of expertise; I encourage you to carry out the same experience with products you know about and share the results.

- Jason