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Matthew E. May


Christmas Wish: Meaningful Measurements

Engineers and consumers do not think alike

Published: Friday, December 14, 2012 - 18:06

All I want for Christmas is a meaningful measurement. I’m tired of “technical specifications” that have no real-world application. I’m fatigued by acronyms and jargon that I can only imagine have evil engineers and masochistic technical writers in dark rooms giggling with glee (mwah-ha-ha-ha style) while rubbing their hands together as they conjure up the next little bit of consumer torture they’ll trot out under the misnomer of information.

Why so irritable, you ask? I’m in the market for a new and larger television, one that will fit over my family room mantle. I know the length and height that would work. But can I find that in the list of 30-odd technical specs? Sure, down around number 28. Unbelievable. Note to television manufacturers: THE DIAGONAL MEASUREMENT OF THE SCREEN MEANS NOTHING TO ME!

No human being takes out a tape measure and seeks first to measure the hypotenuse of a triangle. They measure base and height. Same goes for laptops. Note to laptop manufacturers (including the mighty Apple): THE DIAGONAL MEASUREMENT OF THE SCREEN MEANS NOTHING TO ME!

I need to know if it will fit into the sleeve in my briefcase and backpack. Or on the folding tray of your average airline seat.

Guess who shoulders the burden of making those discoveries? Customers. Granted, in the case of laptops, a few luggage makers, like my favorite providers at Tumi, help me out with language such as “Fits screen size up to 15 inches.” Why should accessory makers be forced to do the translation?

As you go about your holiday shopping, take note of all the meaningless measurements and technical specifications associated with whatever purchase you’re considering. Ask yourself the root cause, and you’ll quickly conclude that product manufacturers really need to get out more and rub shoulders with people as they seek to fit a certain gizmo into their life. You’ll quickly conclude that the only possible reason for meaningless measurements is an engineer’s or technical writer’s utter ignorance, possibly even disdain, for anyone other than another engineer or technical writer.

You’ll also discover a huge opportunity for a disruptive business model.

My Christmas wish: Someone please disrupt all the original equipment manufacturers in the world—cars, electronics, you name it—and arrive at a meaningful set of measurements. I promise to sing your praises to anyone and everyone.

If this comes off as a screaming rant by a disgruntled consumer, then I’ve hit my mark.

First published on the Edit Innovation blog. Reprinted with permission.


About The Author

Matthew E. May’s picture

Matthew E. May

Matthew E. May counsels executives and teams through custom designed facilitation, coaching, and training using four basic ingredients: strategy, ideation, experimentation, and lean. He’s been counseling for 30 years, a third of it as a full-time advisor to Toyota. He is the author of four books, the latest The Laws of Subtraction (McGraw-Hill, 2013), and is working on his fifth book. His work has been appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, and many other publications. May holds an MBA from The Wharton School and a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University.


Sales and Marketing deceptive practices

On the subject of TVs, I am glad you did not go into Contrast Ratio, Refresh Rate or HDMI cables, otherwise we could be here all day.

You may have missed the point of the suppliers here and that is deceptive practices by the sales and marketing team in order to sell you something you may not want, appears to meet your needs but does not, appears better (or bigger) than it actually is or gives you some added benefit that actually does not exist (high cost HDMI cables come into this category).

I share your frustration, my friend. 

Great Point!

I couldn't agree more...it would be such a simple fix, too.

I have the same problem with luggage. I have some training aids I carry sometimes, and I need suitcases with interior dimensions that will be large enough to fit the equipment. It's very easy to find the exterior dimensions for suitcases, but if you want to know the interior dimensions, be prepared to visit a store, tape measure in hand.