In college, I was in an academic program that prepared business and engineering students for consulting careers. Our coursework focused on applying different quality tools to real-world scenarios. One of these tools, Garvin’s 8 Dimensions of Quality, is designed to provide an objective criteria to assess a product’s quality.
In the classroom, we mostly practiced applying quality tools to physical products. However, the tools we learned are applicable across industries: consulting, manufacturing, or tech; McKinsey, Toyota, or Facebook. In digital product design, “Garvin’s 8” can provide more structure to an otherwise highly-subjective design process.
This article will introduce the eight principles and adapt them to digital design and user interfaces. Each dimension has the textbook definition followed by a brief digital adaptation and a set of corresponding test questions you might use in your next critique.
1. Performance 🏎
Performance refers to a product’s primary operating characteristics. This dimension of quality involves measurable attributes; brands can usually be ranked objectively on individual aspects of performance.
Performance is often more visible in physical design (think speed of a sports car) than digital design (think conversion on a call-to-action button). Nevertheless, the rise of data has brought tools that help us better understand how effective our digital products are in completing their goals. You can create top-line metrics that get to the root of what we are trying to achieve through a certain design decision, be it number of app signups or successful transactions.
Plus, there’s always good ol’ performance performance in things like loading speeds or animation fluidity.
- What data points are critical for the success of our product? How can this metric be measured?
- Is a user able to efficiently accomplish what they set out to do?
2. Features 🛠
Features are additional characteristics that enhance the appeal of the product or service to the user.
“Features” is a word we know well and good in this space. Still, this dimension can be misleading. The goal is not to have more features, but to have good features that differentiate from other products. Avoid feature creep by accomplishing this as minimally as possible.
- What features differentiate this product from others like it?
- Who are those features valuable to?
- Does this product have everything it needs to solve a core problem? Which features are unnecessary?
3. Reliability ⏱
Reliability is the likelihood that a product will not fail within a specific time period. This is a key element for users who need the product to work without fail.
At first look, this might appear as a focus of an infrastructure team. But reliability is an area that designers can have real impact. Simple, concise models mean fewer edge cases and lower risk of one-off bugs.
We can stretch this definition further to include consistency. This is a key to building products with robust design systems that not only make them easier to build and maintain, but that provide an intuitive experience to users.
- Are we reliably providing a consistent experience to different users?
- Do people know how and where to complete tasks in our product?
4. Conformance 🚨
Conformance is the precision with which the product or service meets the specified standards.
Conformance is the rule that so many designers love to break. In app design, we adhere to platform guidelines like Android’s Material Design guidelines or iOS’s Human Interface Guidelines so that new users can quickly understand how a product works. This is possible because over time, users understand a set of well-defined UX patterns.
Breaking these guidelines with one’s style or interaction pattern is acceptable, but only if there is good reason to do so. If nobody challenged the norms, design would not progress. If nobody followed them, users would be thrown into a confusing wild wild west of interface chaos.
- What UI and information architecture standards do our product follow?
- Where does our product diverge from those guidelines? Why?
5. Durability 👵🏼
Durability measures the length of a product’s life. When the product can be repaired, estimating durability is more complicated. The item will be used until it is no longer economical to operate it. This happens when the repair rate and the associated costs increase significantly.
Digital products don’t really break down or wear with use. Instead, they become outdated. Let’s redefine this dimension as Longevity: the ability for a product to remain timely, relevant, and modern over time.
- Are we following trends that might quickly become outdated?
- Does our product meet the latest web/platform standards?
- Is the product performing a function that is useful for years to come?
6. Serviceability 👷🏾
Serviceability is the speed with which the product can be put back into service (repaired) when it breaks down, as well as the competence and the behavior of the serviceperson.
I’ve worked with developers in the past who use proprietary software that is so complex that nobody can collaborate with them. Serviceability says that good products do not rely on exclusive or restrictive systems, but rather have the foresight to build in a scalable way—for the user and the internal team. Similar to any mainstream car part can be swapped out for another, product teams should think about what effect swapping a teammate out for someone of comparable skill would have on the product. Red flags might include undocumented build systems or unscalable illustration styles.
- What could going wrong with this product and how can we prepare to fix it?
- How can we document code and design for future collaborators?
- If the person who built this product leaves, how will we continue developing it?
7. Aesthetics ✨
Aesthetics is the subjective dimension indicating the kind of response a user has to a product. It represents the individual’s personal preference.
This is what everyone thinks design is yada yada… Clearly aesthetics are important in providing a unique experience and delight to users, but it should be weighed up against the other dimensions to properly assess tradeoffs. Visual designers are key to retaining users in a successful product. While subjective, if a product’s aesthetic doesn’t look modern, it might indicate that other aspects are not being improved either.
- Does our product have a unique style?
- Is our product providing delight through visuals and interaction?
8. Perceived Quality 👀
Perceived Quality is the quality attributed to a good or service based on indirect measures.
This dimension goes hand-in-hand with branding. No matter how performant your product is, nobody will touch it if they don’t perceive it to be good. Brand appearance and reputation carry a ton of weight in the digital space, as products are often fueled by referrals and organic discovery.
- Have we invested in building a brand that instills confidence in potential users?
- Does our brand align with our product goals?
It’s difficult to score perfect 10s on all eight dimensions, which is why designers are always making thoughtful trade-offs. Even with deadlines or constraints, alternatives can be analyzed with these principles as a rubric of comparison.
And, of course, rules dimensions are meant to be broken. Reddit, for example, fails miserably in aesthetics and perceived quality, but has excelled at performance and durability which keeps users coming back.
Where does your product excel, and where does it still have room for improvement?
If you interpreted these dimensions differently or think I am missing key insights, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Best of luck making quality products!