See It, Feel It, Buy It! Surfaces Are More Than Just Surfaces
A product caught my eye the other day at a hardware store. While looking for a toolkit to use at home, I came across a product by a manufacturer I had never heard of. It spoke to me immediately. Not because it seemed exceptionally well-developed from a technical standpoint. Not because it seemed especially sturdy or well-made. It caught my eye because the surfaces struck me as pleasant and attractive.
What nonsense, I thought. A tool has to be functional and long-lasting. It doesn't have to look good!
All the same, I felt I was being influenced and I saw myself in a peculiar position: Should I buy a toolkit from a name-brand European manufacturer known for high-quality tools, or should I pay a comparable price for 'better-looking' tools by a manufacturer I had never heard of? In that moment I asked myself: "What difference does it make if a tool 'looks good'!" Does it make unscrewing and repairing more fun? Will my wife use the tools, too, if they look good? With beautiful satined surfaces in attractive colors? It wouldn't even be necessary to stow the tools in the toolbox anymore; they could just be left lying around the house...
Or has the manufacturer made his products look attractive to divert attention from their poor quality? As you can see, my straightforward visit to the hardware store to purchase tools turned into an hour of product psychology.
The design of a product has always played an important role alongside functionality. Form, color, and material are important aspects of design. Whereas there used to be product areas where the focus was on good, solid processing and long-lasting durability, the trend in a time of total market saturation is often towards launching competitive products. Of course, this can be achieved by means of traditional quality characteristics as well. But the importance of surface design has increased tremendously. Take the coffee machine for example. Once a simple plastic device that steamed and made strange noises, today it figures as a high-quality, thoroughly styled household accessory. In the process, the quality of the surfaces plays an important role alongside functionality. Highly polished stainless steel surfaces, matte black handles, and colorful, anodized controls make today's coffee machines into wonders of design.
A similar development can be seen in many other areas of life. Hi-Fi and communication devices mainly impressed users with all sorts of technical frills. Today, the surfaces are sometimes all the users see, and they have to look for the controls. Because the focus is now on the surfaces, it is obviously crucial that they look as perfect as possible and remain attractive even after having been used for a while.
The same applies to the area of mobility. Not only are bicycles made of very high-quality materials these days, but they also receive additional enhancement by means of elaborate surface technologies. As a result, the customer acquires a product that captivates not only through its technical perfection, but also through its visual attractiveness.
Furthermore, every eyeglass wearer today is given the choice between wearing a simple, functional optical aid or a decorative ornament that has been developed into something unique thanks to expensive surface treatment.
As products from different manufacturers become more and more alike from a technical standpoint, outward design becomes increasingly important. The range of possibilities in surface technology means that manufacturers can offer something that suits everyone's taste, whether glossy or matte, colorful or black and white, uncoated or coated, metal, plastic, wood, glass, or ceramic. A multitude of treatments and processing methods make thousands of design variants possible.
What's more, surfaces of especially high quality do not lose their 'luster' even after many years, but continue to satisfy customers thanks to their durability and longevity. This is an encouraging development, given that we live in a 'disposable society'. Eyeglass wearers don't have to throw away their glasses after two years because they become unsightly. Instead, they stay very happy with their glasses even two years later and are proud and happy to buy a second attractive pair of glasses in a different design.
And the ardent mountain biker doesn't take his high-quality bike to the scrap heap after four years, but rather hands it down to his growing son and buys the latest model, which is even more attractive than the one he has.
These are all positive effects of high-quality surface processing. Many manufacturers have understood that to save money of surface processing, is to think in the short term. The more impressive the quality of the surface, the more impressed the customer will be by a manufacturer thinking in the long term.
So listen closely the next time you buy a tool. The surface might just be telling you: See me, feel me, buy me...
by Dirk Gather, Contributing Editor MFN and General Manager of GZO GmbH, Germany