Good Vibrations

in Vol. 21 - March Issue - Year 2020
A Finishing Tale – The Fascination Of A Perfect Surface
Figure 1: Finishing process of iPhone7, source: Apple/Youtube

Figure 1: Finishing process of iPhone7, source: Apple/Youtube

Figure 2: Surface of iPhone7 diamond black, source: Apple

Figure 2: Surface of iPhone7 diamond black, source: Apple

How much value is there in surface finishing?

When you type DIY surface finishing in Google, you will find a variety of different results, and in fact, many results. What you will see indeed is that surface finishing matters. Nice surfaces obviously have great impact on human perception. Thousands and thousands of results show different methods and machines for a better surface. You will find industrial machines, and you will find a simple bucket driven by a drilling machine in a garage of a lonely handyman. Today, people are talking about the best way to get a nice surface. Even 2000 years ago, Roman soldiers used sandbags to polish their armor.

Why is that?

Well, as you may know, a large part of human perception is dominated by the eye. And visual perception is the first impression we humans get of everything we see in our environment. As an old proverb says: "First impressions are lasting impressions". We are strongly influenced by this first impression.

Even if we humans call the first impression superficial (because we see at first only the surface), it is the one and lasting first superficial impression of everything we remember. That means a shiny surface is a shiny first impression. A shiny surface is a uniform and smooth surface, and with such a structure, we connect high valence, strength, resistance, quality, rarity, scarcity and eternity. It is simply touching us in the inner heart.

The earliest perfect surfaces our ancestors saw were the swords and helmets of warriors, made of gold and silver. Most surfaces in early history of mankind were quite imperfect. Polished iron may have been the most widespread sign of sophisticated craftsmanship a thousand years ago.

Our organism, our quick thinking, knows that an even and shiny surface is something that is manmade, but in nature, only water in a windless environment has a perfect surface. Our deepest subconscious mind knows that. There is no perfect larger hard surface in nature. For hundreds of thousands of years, our pre-hominid ancestors of homo sapiens had never ever seen a perfect hard surface of matter. Perhaps there was some geological lava structure that stiffened, or frozen water with a hard surface. Nature only shows smoothness at great distance; flat landscapes in the desert, the horizon line watched from a mountain, the blue sky, but nothing more. Smoothness is manmade.

No wonder that the glitter-glitter effect of the first shiny gold was overwhelming in ancient cultures. It was so effective that the shiny reflecting surface of gold combined with its scarcity became the first epitome of wealth and material security and remains so even today.

Apple, the company with the phenomenal marketing instinct for human perception, dedicated a whole chapter to the subject of surface finishing for the introduction of iPhone 7. In the official trailer for the introduction of that product, the Apple Chief Design Officer himself, Jony Ive, is commenting in the video. Within the trailer, 80% of scenes are showing detailed close-ups of the phone’s surface, and at 1:10, the word "finish" is spoken in the term "high gloss black finish". After that, the finishing process is shown in epic width.
Which technical company before had the idea of showing the finishing process of their products, a process, which to many, seems not even necessary in terms functionality and product benefit? Often managers are thinking in terms of their customers being a homo economicus, a role model human described in the textbooks of national economy professors. These "econs" are acting always reasonably, and even if they are not trained engineers or financial experts, they are described as rational thinking individuals buying products with the best price, which is often the lowest price of the product with the best price benefit ratio.

Well, Apple has shown that the homo economicus simply does not exist. He may have his authorization as an economic model, but with real-life decisions of individual human beings, he has absolutely not much to do. Interestingly, many people cannot believe that they themselves are not always deciding on the terms of price/benefit ratio. The smartest engineers are thinking that they are directed by sober numbers and rationality and they are even looking down on emotional business people, while at the same time buying and driving a Porsche sports car for a horrendous price/benefit ratio, but with a really nice high gloss perfect finish! The economy psychologist Daniel Kahneman writes about that really interesting phenomenon in his award-winning book "Thinking Fast and Slow".

So, when we turn back to the starting question of how much value there is deep inside surface finishing, we cannot give a simple answer. But for sure, we know that there is often much more importance than we might think. Finishing does matter!

Good Vibrations
by Mathieu Geuting
Spaleck Oberflächentechnik GmbH & Co. KG, Germany
Tel. +49.2871.9500 14
Fax +49.2871.9500 95
E-mail: m.geuting@spaleck.biz