Saturday, 28 March 2009

Design and build quality

I've recently had leave to open up computer equipment from three well known manufacturers, HP, Dell and Apple. All three pieces of equipment differed vastly in their design philosophy. 

The Dell, a machine built primarily for use in a corporate environment was the easiest to open. A simple slide latch on the top and the lid popped off, revealing a mass of easily removable plastic latches and trays. It worked really well, but wasn't exactly a what I'd call a nice place. 

The HP printer on the other hand was obviously built down to a price - and never designed to be serviced in the field (indeed HP wouldn't repair this fault, they simply wanted to sell me another printer. 10 minutes searching on the interweb and an hour of work on a Saturday morning and the printer was as good as new). Several screws seemed missing, but my repair guide from the web says these just weren't fitted in the first place. Cheap, coarsely pressed metal which was roughly finished was the order of the day.

I also recently replaced the hard disk on my MacBookPro. Everything everybody says about Apple's drive for perfection in industrial design is true - and there's no better way to understand than to look inside one of their computers. Whereas the HP used one length of screw throughout (nobody cares if a screw sticks out an extra 5mm from its thread when it's inside the case - right?), if a screw inside the MBP needed to be .25mm longer or shorter - then it was. Everything was neat and tidy - you could tell that it hadn't been simply designed to be sold, it had been designed by people who cared about their product.

"So what does this have to do with photography", I hear you scream. Well I'll tell you. A few weeks ago I was demonstrating the use of large-format cameras to a group of people who'd either never used an LF camera before, or who were just starting out on their journey to true enlightenment :).

When working with another brand of camera - admittedly what you'd now call a 'vintage' camera, I found its control of movements - particularly front tilt and swing to be so coarse as to be virtually unusable. In contrast to my Ebony, which can be unlocked and moved by use of the very precise controls, suddenly struck me as a precisely engineered device which was designed by someone who really cared about how the end user would use it - and chose the best methods and materials he saw fit. 

The older camera in my mind aligns with the Dell and the HP - whilst it will get the job done, it is almost utilitarian in its execution of its task. 

Does the fact that my Ebony and my MacBook are designed in such a way make a difference to the end result? Arguably no. But I appreciate the design of these things, which to me makes a difference, I'm happier using them than less well designed things, and I hope that shows in the ultimate end result.