On quality and what it looks like

Today I was trying to install a picture hanging rail system. I had tried to get the manufacturer to send someone to install it but they don’t offer the service and argued that anyone with basic skills could do it just fine. Reality begged to differ. A third of the way through, after struggling to drill 12 holes into the wall and fastening the whole thing up my wife thought it looked fine and I was appaled at how crappy it had turned out.

Most of the problem is a question of precision. The instructions call for holes to be drilled 20mm from the ceiling. This is a hard thing to do precisely, and my tools weren’t particularly good. I had a cheap pistol grip drill and drill bit. My house walls are made of particularly hard bricks covered by a particularly soft covering. All this made the drilling difficult and made it easy to turn the wall and ceiling into a mess of marks.

The rest of the problem is actually still a mistery to me. A hole 20mm from the ceiling can’t be horizontal with normal tools. Any normal drill has 30mm or more separation from the center of the drill bit and its topmost part, so to not impact the ceiling (and I failed once) you need to drill it at an angle.

After stepping back and thinking through the issue I realized what was really bothering me. I had a very clear, very visual idea of what quality looked like. I even had some hypothesis on how to get to that quality (better tools, a more precise workflow, etc). I also had a high standard for what I wanted out of this. This is my home, an environment I try to tailor for myself, I want it to look good. My wife had the same goals but her view on what quality looked like for this kind of thing was much less demanding.

Frustrating as the situation was it could have been much worse. Here I both cared and had a clear idea of what quality looked like, so the only barrier was execution, and even there I had a few clues on how to fix it. It’s much more challenging and frustrating when you care but don’t know what quality looks like. I’ve been in situations like that before. Situations where I don’t understand quality and yet the topic is important and demanding. Situations where other people try to explain to me what quality looks like and I don’t even have the underlying framework to understand what they are saying.

I read somewhere that one of the frustrations of being a good designer is that your taste for quality develops faster than your ability to create it, so you’re destined to years of hard work where what you do isn’t good enough to meet your own standards. Frustating as it may be it’s liberating to know that at least the first step is done, that you know what you’re aiming for and that you just need to put the hours in. So if anyone wants to let me practice on their walls just let me know.