SHIFTING PARADIGM: TOWARDS A COMPREHENSIVE
UNDERSTANDING OF QUALITY
Falk, Björn (1); Stylidis, Konstantinos (2); Wickman, Casper (2); Söderberg, Rikard (2); Schmitt,
1: RWTH Aachen, Germany; 2: Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden
The development of competitive products is not a question of unique and expensive features but of best
quality for money. Yet, defining quality from a customer’s perspective and realizing it throughout the
product development process is complex. The elicitation of customers’ perception and correlating
product attributes is recently subject to studies and research projects in industry and science. The
common aim is to identify the product parameters responsible for a costumer’s judgement. Still, these
efforts are scattered and examining individual cases. A common understanding as well as a framework
for distinct research and application is still missing. Besides its history, current research and arising
challenges, the paper at hands shall emphasize the need for a change in the understanding of product
quality and propose a comprehensive framework to handle quality perception especially on an industrial
level. This will help to define the relevant attributes and specifications, form a common platform for
parties involved in product development and, hence, guide further research.
Keywords: User centred design, Organisation of product development, Multisensory product
experience, Perceived quality
Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering
21ST INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ENGINEERING DESIGN, ICED17
21-25 AUGUST 2017, THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA, VANCOUVER, CANADA
Please cite this paper as:
Surnames, Initials: Title of paper. In: Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED17),
Vol. 9: Design Education, Vancouver, Canada, 21.-25.08.2017.
The development of attractive and competitive products is not always a question of unique and
expensive features but of best quality for money. This implies defining quality as the conformance of
customers' needs and requirements with the product's design and performance. However, defining
quality from a customer’s perspective and realizing it throughout the product development process is a
fuzzy and arduous task. Although customer orientation has become key element of almost every
strategy, companies hardly ever know how a customer perceives and evaluates their product. To date,
"soft"-factors and influencing elements such as customers' experience, word of mouth, brand or product
image and the complexity of human perception are acknowledged in importance and relevance for a
product's success and as such part of the quality evaluation. Yet, a comprehensive approach to address
those elements in product development is missing. This can also be ascribed to the fact, that there is no
widely recognized understanding and framework for Perceived Quality in literature and certainly not in
The elicitation of customers’ perception and correlating product attributes is recently subject to several
studies and research projects in industry and science (Schmitt, 2014). The overall aim is to identify the
product parameters responsible for a costumer’s judgement. Still, these efforts are scattered and
examining individual cases. Besides its history, current research and arising challenges, the paper at
hands shall emphasize the need for a change in the understanding of product quality and propose a
comprehensive framework to handle quality perception especially on an industrial level. This will help
to (1) define the relevant attributes and specifications, (2) form a common platform for parties involved
in product development and, hence, (3) guide further research.
The paper is structured as follows. In chapter 2 the history and current challenges regarding Perceived
Quality will be given to emphasize the need for change. Therefore, existing deficits in literature (2.1) as
well as problems from industrial use (2.2) will be elaborated. In chapter 3 a suitable framework for a
comprehensive approach towards optimizing perceived product quality is given. Chapter 4 concludes
the paper and gives an outlook on further research.
2 CURRENT VIEW ON PERCEIVED PRODUCT QUALITY
Exploring the history of product quality, there are several publications and models referring to its
multidimensional character. The subjective evaluation by the customer is usually addressed by the
Perceived Quality. Challenges arise in the theoretical discussion about definitions and approaches as
well as in practical application within industrial development processes.
2.1 Scientific challenges: defining quality from the customers' perspective
Since the beginning, the definition and deployment of quality principles in modern product development
were influenced by various factors, but most of all by the dilemma of finding an equilibrium between
product cost and fulfilment of customer’s requirements. At the end of the 20th century attempts to
manage quality mainly focused on quality inspection, designing for quality or capturing voice of the
customer. Eventually, differentiation in approaches to the “quality problem” segregated quality aspects
into the different views, methodologies, disciplines and dimensions.
Nevertheless, it is recognized by many authors that quality has a multidimensional structure.
Traditionally customers' Perceived Quality has been seen as one of those dimensions. One of the first
depictions of Perceived Quality was made by Shapiro (1970), as he described purchase behaviour. At
the macro level, the term “product quality” has been identified as a key variable for the competitiveness
(Steenkamp, 1990). Consequently, at the micro level product quality is the major driver for the
manufacturers and the consumers. The notable definition of product quality as “fitness for use” is
credited to Josef Juran. According to Juran, “fitness”, thereby, is defined by the customer. Another
description of quality perception provided by Olson (1972) defines Perceived Quality as a two-stage
process: the first stage includes customer’s judgment based on available cues and forms. Subsequently,
user forms their quality impression based on their interpretation of those cues and forms. The cues are
delineated as intrinsic and extrinsic. Henceforth, intrinsic cues are a part of the product and cannot be
changed without changing the physical characteristics of the product itself. Conversely, the extrinsic
cues are those attributes, which are not a part of the physical product. According to Olson’s study,
intrinsic cues occur to be more accurate indicators of quality than extrinsic. Rather representing
“manufacturing” point of view, Crosby (1980), defined quality as “conformance to requirements”.
However, according to Crosby, requirements may not always fulfil customer’s expectation, as
perception and expectation differ from expression. Hence, with the many independent attempts to define
quality, probably one of the most distinctive was performed by the Taguchi (1986). Taguchi defines
quality as “the losses of society caused by the product after its delivery” and as “uniformity around the
target value”. Product development, according to Taguchi, consists of Product Quality (what customers
desire) and Engineering Quality (what customers do not want). In the first case, customers desire
functionality or appearance of the product and in the second customers dislike high running cost,
pollution or functional variability (Taguchi et al., 2005). Describing the Eastern influence on product
development, one has to mention Kano (1984), who presented a model with three levels of quality
elements: "must-be", "one-dimensional" and "attractive". Kano defined customer satisfaction as the
result of the company’s performance according to all three of these. There is to say that nowadays, the
Kano model is widely implemented in practice across various engineering domains and particularly in
the automotive industry.
Garvin (1984) introduced an inclusive model of quality with the five approaches: transcendent, product-
based, user-based, manufacturing-based and value-based. Additionally, Garvin pointed out that views
on quality are different from the point of “marketing people” and “manufacturing people.” The first type
usually prefers user-based or product-based approach, because they see a customer as a referee of
quality. Accordingly, “manufacturing people” see quality as “conformance to requirements.” The clear
existence of the conflict identified in these two views. To minimize the effect of such a conflicts to
communication strategies, Garvin proposed to shift quality approach as a product moves from the early
design stage to the production stage. Finally, he defined eight dimensions of quality: performance,
features, reliability, conformance, durability, serviceability, aesthetics and perceived. According to
Garvin, Perceived Quality is a subjective dimension, which derives from incomplete information about
product attributes and cannot be adequately assessed. Later on, views on Perceived Quality as a
subjective and non-assessable part of the product quality were developed further, mainly by the
“marketing people”. Monroe and Krishnan (1985) define Perceived Quality as “perceived ability of a
product to provide satisfaction relative to the available alternatives”. Steenkamp (1990) admitting
inconsistency and lack of the empirical proof for the existing (by that time) definitions of Perceived
Quality, proposed a framework for developing a new definition of Perceived Quality. His framework
presents the following quality dimensions in the context of value: Perceived Quality involves preference;
it is neither objective nor subjective; Perceived Quality exists in the product consumption.
There are several “marketing – oriented” definitions of Perceived Quality that focus mainly on the
customer. Mitra and Golder (2006) interpret Perceived Quality as “perception of the customer” and
oppose it to the term “objective” quality. Such a view on Perceived Quality derives from the earlier
research of Zeithaml. Her interpretation defines Perceived Quality as a subjective customer’s judgment
regarding overall product superiority. According to this, Perceived Quality is different from objective
quality (Zeithaml, 1988). The similar view expressed by Aaker (2009) defining Perceived Quality as
“the customer’s perception of the overall quality or superiority of a product or service with respect to its
intended purpose, relative to alternatives. Likewise, Castleberry and McIntyre (2011) explain Perceived
Quality as “…a belief about the degree of excellence of a goods or service that is derived by examining
consciously and/or unconsciously, relevant cues that are appropriate and available, and made within the
context of prior experience, relative alternatives, evaluative criteria and/or expectations". Taking a look
from the distance, many of those approaches share similar vocabulary, ideas or notions (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Schematic illustration of the connections of selected Perceived Quality theories
(Stylidis et al., 2015)
Although these theories summarize different aspects of what Perceived Quality is about, most of them,
however, remain fuzzy. Apart from Steenkamp (1989), they do rarely refer to the actual identification
of product attributes or cues that contribute to the product judgment by the customer. What can still be
noted is that…
• …Perceived Quality significantly influences the customer’s opinion and, therefore, has an impact
on the purchase decision and the customer satisfaction.
• …the perception of quality characteristics is a subjective process and happens consciously as well
as unconsciously in order to satisfy evident and hidden customer needs.
• …due to the scrappiness of information gathered from the customers, Perceived Quality is often
based on the comparison of quality characteristics according to purpose of usage and expectations.
This comparison can either be direct or based on experience.
• …besides the objective and physical design of the product, the main influence factors of Perceived
Quality are the individually given purpose of usage, aesthetics, environmental influences, brand
name and, for instance, the company’s reputation (Lieb et al., 2008).
It can also be stated that the greater amount of approaches towards quality models and Perceived Quality
are either driven by the market research or represent manufacturing side of product development. They
provide no ideas about elicitation and/or objective assessment methodology regarding product attributes
that comprise Perceived Quality. Seeing that, the transition from case/industry thinking to the vision of
product development as utilization of process patterns and incorporation of Perceived Quality concerns
in product design at all stages is a major but necessary shift. Current challenges in industry confirm such
2.2 Industrial challenges: designing perceived quality
To make a complex product - such as an automobile - successful in the competitive global market,
manufacturers have to ensure highest standards of both manufacturing quality and Perceived Quality
(Petiot et al., 2008). Speaking about premium and luxury segments of the automotive industry, the idea
of “zero-defects” is adapted by the majority of players in these segments. The vision of the nearly perfect
built-in quality stands for the manufacturing quality dimension to follow the highest standards, but still
makes it just an entry ticket to the premium segment. Today, it is perfectly understood by automotive
manufacturers that quality perception is at the forefront of customer’s attention and has a highest
influence on purchasing behaviour. However, identification and mapping attributes that represent
Perceived Quality is the on-going challenge for researchers and practitioners (Ren et al., 2013; Burnap
et al., 2015). This process is arduous due to the subjective nature of many attributes and absence of
robust methodologies for translating the voice of the customer into technical specifications.
Additionally, customers often have difficulties expressing their opinions about a product with a high
level of complexity such as a premium vehicle. Given these points, designers and engineers need to
strike a balance in representation of Perceived Quality attributes. But current application of tools and
usage of data throughout product development even increases mismatch or selective over-engineering
rather than committing efforts towards customers' appreciation (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Application of methods and tools on different product levels
Such a fuzzy basis often creates information asymmetry (Connelly et al., 2011). With the application to
the product development process, information asymmetry can cause wrong prioritization of perceptual
design attributes between designer and customer as well as between the designer and the engineer. At
the organizational level, information asymmetry appears due to different terminology, organizational
structure, divergent knowledge or internal corporate culture used in OEM practice. Previous studies
(Stylidis et al., 2016) have shown that information asymmetry is detrimental to a product’s success on
the market and reduction of such asymmetry should increase Perceived Quality of the vehicle. Next to
those different levels of information shown in Figure 2, the elicitation and use of information is as
widespread (see Figure 3) forming individual silos of information and again asymmetry.
Figure 3. Application of tools at different stages of the product life cycle
In combination (detail level and allocation in process) this forms an even greater asymmetry and hinders
customer orientation and efficient design of perceived and appreciated quality. An example from the
automotive industry will be used to elaborate this problem.
Figure 4 shows the simulation of the left trunk segment of a station wagon from the premium segment.
Next to the hydraulic, the hinge, the sealing and the taillight, several spot welds are visible alongside
the trunk opening as well as on the outer body line. According to OEM standards, especially in the
premium segment, all sorts of fasteners shall be hidden to keep a monolithic image and not disturb
aesthetics or design. Additionally, customers shall picture the car as robust. "Small" and "scattered" spot
welds on a car frame which weighs several kilos don't appear very solid to a common customer lacking
the technological knowledge.
OEMs know that. And detecting such flaws of Perceived Quality is often part of special audits. But these
are usually done late in the development process or for benchmarking and learning issues. Findings have
to be integrated into design rules for upcoming projects.
Figure 4. Visibility of laser spot welds
Still, flaws like this occur. While various types of spot welding, e.g. resistance spot welding (RSW) and
laser spot welding (LSW), assessment are well established, the verification methods for the perceived
quality and appearance prediction remains absent. As a result, the majority of premium and luxury
automobile manufacturers simply hide attributes derived from the manufacturing process (e.g. spot
welds) as non-compliable with the visual quality of the vehicle. The example from Figure 4 shows a
CAD model with visible spot welds at the early design stage. The question of choice is between keeping
a laser brazing as joining technique or to replace it with the spot welding. The spot welds (type RSW)
are visible and create problems to the visual appearance of the vehicle. The solution would be to hide
those spots just because they do not communicate “good quality”. Still, no valid basis for evaluation and
The struggle is imminent. Caused by individual perspectives, goals and insufficient communication.
Lacking a shared basis or framework and therefore a mutual and comprehensive customer-oriented view
on the product. Hence, Perceived Quality cannot be addressed part by part, but has to be determined and
evaluated cross-departmental from the beginning.
Yet, the example only illustrates optical issues in a confined product area. Taking into account all
customers' senses as well as interaction and appearance of all product features, the extent of the
challenge at hand becomes obvious.
3 TOWARDS A NEW UNDERSTANDING AND FRAMEWORK
Reviewing the existing literature showed the deficits in a comprehensive understanding and approach
towards Perceived Quality. Yet, several contributions underlined the difference in customers' perception
and companies' implementation. The subjective impression on which a customer bases his evaluation
effects all 'objective' quality dimensions. Therefore, compared to e.g. Garvin's comprehensive list of
quality dimensions, Perceived Quality can rather be seen as the customer's view on all other dimensions,
than as an isolated term (see Figure 5).
Figure 5. Perceived Quality as a holistic perspective not a dimension
From the engineering point of view, the domain of the Perceived Quality is a place where space, form,
sound and material intersect with human experience. In the automotive industry during the product
development process, the vehicle architecture space is usually handled and described by product
attributes and their specifications; e.g. fuel consumption, active safety, noise, durability and many
others. A typical automotive OEM uses around 40-120 top-level attributes depending on organization
and structure. The product attributes are responsible for requirements fulfilment, vehicle behaviour and
design. Product attributes are involved in both – complete vehicle requirements and also in system and
component requirements. Characteristic of Perceived Quality can be defined differently depending on
the OEMs strategy, DNA or target group. Even though, the scope of Perceived Quality is to secure the
correct meaning, authenticity and execution of the complete vehicle. The ultimate goal is to execute all
components and system solutions of the vehicle in a way that final product will be perceived by the
customer as intended. For a premium OEM this might be luxury and value, for an OEM producing sports
cars it might be speed and control. Perceived Quality indicates the conformity of the target group's
requirements and expectations with the realized product features.
There is to mention that creation of a vehicle with high Perceived Quality is not the biggest challenge
for the premium and luxury segment of the automotive industry. This can always be achieved with
increased product cost. The initial challenge in balancing Perceived Quality attributes regarding existing
technologies, innovations, product development time cycle, production systems and project budget,
means: picking the right and relevant product attributes.
The dilemma of creating meaningful and accessible discussions about Perceived Quality is created by
the absence of a common vocabulary that would provide a shared frame of reference. To form a basic
structure and communication platform the Perceived Quality Framework (PQF) was found, based on
work from Stylidis et al. (2015). Aim was a clear heuristic structure for robust discourse around the
theme of product quality, to establish a shared basis for dialogue towards optimizing Perceived Quality.
PQF highlights the interdependencies between technical characteristics of the product and customer’s
perceptions. The framework was built upon the results of semi-structured interviews with senior
designers, managers, and engineers of two luxury automotive manufacturers and five European and
North-American premium segment OEM’s. All companies develop vehicles but within different
characteristics. All companies are global market players. Partially, the data included information
received from numerous semi-formal discussions with the professionals from leading UK and German
luxury and premium vehicle manufacturers. The study explored processes regarding customer’s
requirements definition and understanding dimensions of Perceived Quality in each OEM. Additionally,
various types of document attributes, structure descriptions, and working instructions have been studied.
As a result, Perceived Quality attributes can be structured and decomposed to the “ground” level (see
Figure 6). Consisting of elements like gap width, exposed fasteners, materials or force-stroke curves of
operating elements. Once defined, those can be used for internal and inter-department communication
to form a general and mutual understanding between departments and disciplines.
Figure 6. Perceived Quality Framework: company side
Second to the development side, the customers side has to be elaborated. This means, that connections
between the product attributes and corresponding customer evaluations have to be drawn. To address
this void, a category system based on four of the five human senses can be devised: visual, tactile,
auditory and olfactory. All Perceived Quality relationships (attributes) can be described by a
combination of these, as those are the preliminary human sensors for information. The fifth sense, taste,
is of minor importance for the automotive industry for rather obvious reasons.
Relationships can for once be described single-modal (for each individual sense). Falk et al. (2009)
already depicted exemplary descriptive sensory studies to elicit the perception and evaluation for the
example of haptic perception. This way haptic, optic or acoustic impressions can be translated into
specifications. But human perception is always multi-modal and the consideration of all senses during
product development becomes indispensable (Haverkamp, 2009). Which means, that all influences
between senses have to be regarded and investigated (see Figure 7).
Figure 7. Perceived Quality Framework: customer side
Whereas the company side represents a product architecture, the customers side in its most elaborated
form is a quantitative model of perception and evaluation of certain product attributes and
characteristics; defining for example the multi-modal perception of roughness of a certain surface or the
perception-relevant specifications for a force-stroke-curve of a button. Still, this model is subject to a
severe numbers of studies yet to be conducted. But recent research exemplifies this approach and
encourages continuation (Schmitt, 2014). Figure 8 shows the proposes integrated framework, connected
by the central element of PQ attributes.
Figure 8. Integrated Perceived Quality Framework
To make it tangible, an example for interior surfaces is given in Figure 9. Surface roughness as one of
the identified PQ attributes is attached to the general product architecture of a car, belonging to the
interior section. As such, it is valid for all kind of components of the inner car.
Figure 9. Example of surface roughness
On the customers side the perceived surface roughness can be modelled by a non-linear function of
tactile, optic and acoustic values. That can be ascribed to the fact, that the perception of roughness is
influenced by optic parameters (e.g. colour, structure) as well as acoustic elements (e.g. sound during
finger movement). This way the perception can be modelled by terms like the example in equation (1).
With db, SW, , , E and being exemplary technical measurement values for auditory, visual and
tactile properties and being parameters determined by empirical studies. Of course, most of them
are not linear equations, like in this fictive example, and will always carry an error term () due to
expected empirical fuzziness. But this way a quantitative connection between product architecture,
product attributes and customers' perception and evaluation can be established.
4 CONCLUSION AND DISCUSSION
The presented understanding and framework for Perceived Quality aims at integrating customers' and
companies' view on quality and therefore a faster and more resource-efficient way of realizing good
quality from the customers' point of view. The vital prerequisite of this approach is, first, to understand
Perceived Quality not as one dimension of product quality but as the only one perspective of a customer
on a product with all its feature and surrounding elements. This includes not only physical properties
but also services, brand image, usage and for example aging. Second, Perceived Quality can only be
realized successfully, if it is seen holistically rather than individually for each component and
department. Third, with a common vocabulary information asymmetry between customer and company
as well as between different departments can be decreased. This would enable a systematic and
successful product development. The presented approach shall serve as a basis and structure for
upcoming research as further studies, especially regarding the customers' sensory perception, have to be
Yet, the presented approach stays as a proposal since only single elements have been verified in prior
interviews or studies. On the one hand it is up to further research, whether the determined list of
Perceived Quality attributes holds for all the automotive OEMs not to speak of other industries. On the
other hand, modelling the perception and evaluation of product attributes requires extensive studies and
the goodness of fit and universal applicability for individual parameters stays questionable, but the most
reasonable attempt to investigate customers' quality perception.
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