Perceived Quality 4.0: Knowledge - linked and digital

Recently I talked with a former colleague about the future of Perceived Quality. We agreed that Perceived Quality is incredibly important, especially today, but we also agreed that the process and the application urgently need an update.

Why we think Perceived Quality is more important today than ever


Two major disruptive trends – electrification and digitalization are changing customer preferences, leading to the probably most substantial transformation in the automotive industry we observed in decades. This fact creates enormous competitive pressure. While the established OEMs are trying to keep up with the pace, young manufacturers are breaking new grounds and delighting customers. As we know from the Kano model (1), delightful factors can be decisive for buying. But what delights customers today? Traditionally, Perceived Quality has been aiming at the quality of workmanship. But the newly arisen topics such as sustainability, circular economy, or advanced technical features are becoming more and more important. These themes are also at the forefront of promotion and advertising. For example, Polestar highlights the usage of innovative interior materials reducing the CO2 footprint (2) delivering at the same time extremely high quality.


Audi introduced a high-quality sound for future electric cars, which must have an artificial exterior sound in the EU since summer 2019 (3). Dr. Stylidis at Chalmers University, Sweden, has been working on the subject of vehicle lighting and customer perception alongside with CEVT (4). These things are attractive because they are new and exciting. But they have to prove themselves in everyday life and be accepted by customers. Perceived Quality aims to pay attention to the details to create a high-quality overall picture. If the customer or end consumer experience unexpected errors, even the most exciting feature will no longer delight.

What was Perceived Quality again?


When I was younger and first started working on this topic, more than 20 years ago, perceived quality seemed to be one of the most important processes in early automotive development. A tremendous effort was made to understand what the end consumer perceived as valuable or not. A huge number of cars were rented, and various people were interviewed through questionnaires. These so-called “car clinics” originated from market research, were used in a simplified form to obtain data as quickly and effectively as possible to feed the perceived quality knowledge base. Meanwhile, employees from newly established departments tried to use car clinics’ findings and incorporate them into ongoing projects. Over time, Perceived Quality became a standardized supporting process with Craftsmanship and Design Quality and was integrated into the companies’ process landscape.

source: DIN EN ISO 9001:2008

source: Marvin Meyer

Unfortunately, Perceived Quality has been neglected by some companies in the last years. There is a lot of good and important things in the basic idea of Perceived Quality. After all, it is all about capturing the consumer's expectations, perception and insights gained to develop or improve products. In the context of developing HMI and other software systems, the term "user-centric" or "user-centred design" is often used (5). The same intention in another context. The intention that the consumer is in the focus of the product development activities to create more customer satisfaction and thus maximize the success of a product. ISO 9001 also contains a principle that refers to customer orientation, i.e., capturing customer requirements, incorporating them into product development, and in the end verifying the customer’s satisfaction (6). So Perceived Quality is just another process that tries to put the end consumer in focus? Not exclusively. After all, Perceived Quality arose when it was realized that the end customer perceives quality differently than the engineer who worked on the product for years. The Perceived Quality process was intended to close this gap between the perception of the manufacturer and the customer. This ensured that customer perceptions and thus customer requirements were incorporated into the development process.

Why the conventional Perceived Quality process is no longer up to date

Today we are used to searching the internet for the right answers to our questions - a quick and easy to use source that is always available. A more significant effort is required to find the necessary information about Perceived Quality or the solution to a company’s problem. This is due to various factors that vary from company to company. However, a few similarities show why the PQ process is no longer up to date and why PQ 4.0 can be a solution. The typical process for obtaining customer opinions on the perceived quality in vehicle interiors (PQ benchmark) includes a list of questions or criteria, which, depending on the company, comprises about 20 to 1200 questions and assessments. Several people evaluate either entire vehicles or only components according to these criteria. Often this information is still collected with paper questionnaires and then digitalized. However, there are tools for this purpose with which the test person can enter any number of photos and comments directly in digital form and transfer them to a database. In addition to the PQ benchmark, information on perceived quality is also collected during the development process. In this process, specific problems are worked on, and solutions are found. Of course, this information and solutions are rarely available - and even less transparent for other employees.

source: Christina Wocin

source: Sharon McCutcheon

Usually, this data can be found in various Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, or similar documents. A simple search is, therefore, almost impossible. Sometimes guidelines are also created to document "good" and "bad" Perceived Quality examples to make them available for other employees. Guidelines are a good thing, but unfortunately, they are also very time-consuming and require continuous updating. Storage space has become affordable in the last years. As a result, the worldwide data volume has increased dramatically and will - according to forecasts - increase fivefold by 2025 (7). This trend can also be noticed in companies. Unfortunately, however, data is not always stored intelligently, i.e., in a way that allows you to find the information you are looking for quickly. As a result, data is available in large quantities but often difficult to access. Furthermore, you have to ask yourself whether all this data or information is also interesting or relevant for product improvement. Perceived Quality 4.0, can be seen on the one hand as philosophy and, on the other hand, as a variety of methods. It is a new approach, which tries to bring the PQ process to the state of the art. Many processes suffer from hiding a good idea in the core but failing in the implementation. Here are a few suggestions to avoid this:

What is Perceived Quality 4.0?

New Technologies
Perceived Quality 4.0 combines new technologies with traditional methods. New technologies include artificial intelligence, connected mobile devices and operations, new forms of collaboration via cloud computing, big data, and new applications such as AR/VR.

Intelligent Knowledge Management
4.0 indicates that it is about the digitization of the PQ process. But digitizing data is not enough to make knowledge transparent. As we know, knowledge is the combination of information and practice. Consequently, it is not enough to collect information and make it available. What is important is the processing of the information, i.e., the solution to a problem or the information about a supplier who offers a solution. Only through this information does the data become interesting and relevant for other employees.

We recognize a trend to break up and streamline internal measurement, analysis and improvement processes. For example, this also applies to classic benchmarking. It is not always necessary to disassemble entire vehicles. Often only a few data from a disassembly are used meaningfully. In the area of perceived quality this means a) to concentrate only on the essentials, i.e., to include only the highlights or issues and b) to put the available energy more into the analysis and utilization of the collected information instead of into the collection of the data itself.

Granular Data Collection
In contrast to the sequential collection of data via questionnaires or forms, there is also the approach of granular data collection. First, attention is focused on the information that is needed to be recorded. Afterwards the classification into an existing structure takes place. When capturing perceived quality highlights or issues, this means first capturing the things that delight or strongly disturb. In the second step the classification into a tree structure consisting of e.g. PQ attributes (7), areas of the vehicle interior, components, etc. is done. However, with a granular data collection only, there is a risk that individual components of the survey’s scope are not taken into account. A solution for this can be a combination of checklists and an open collection of highlights and issues. The checklist helps the employee to pay attention to all important things without having to go into detail on every point. Only a statement is required as soon as something is noticed positively or negatively.

Holistic Approach
To be able to respond flexibly to new features or topics, you need a holistic approach of Perceived Quality. An approach that includes all human senses and cognitive abilities in the evaluation of a product. A good example of such a framework is described in the article: "Perceived quality of products: a framework and attributes ranking method" (8) by Stylidis et al.. Here the use of VR is also illustrated by an example of the Perceived Quality Attributes Ranking (PQAIR) methodology.

Knowledge Migration
An empty data pool is a bad start for a knowledge base. Usually, a lot of data already exists in the company and should be used. Migrating existing data to a new system is an expensive matter, but it can also pay for itself quickly. Every documented solution can save days, weeks or more of time for another project.

Data Storage and Reuse
The idea of a Lessons Learned or Best Practice database has been around for many years. But a reasonable implementation in the company is not easy. Often solutions fail because of the actuality of the information or because of the complexity of the system, which should make it easy to find information and solutions. Solutions also fail when it comes to acceptance by the user, who is supposed to enter information into the database. Important factors for the success of a database are therefore - Accessibility at anytime from anywhere and for all relevant persons - easy and intuitive input of information to ensure that the database remains up-to-date and therefore interesting - an extensive search function including full-text search to quickly find the information

The linking of information ultimately leads to a higher data density. Big Data can help to create new algorithms that could feed artificial intelligence and thus make it possible to predict the perceived quality.

source: Jesus Kiteque


Some processes need a little push to get back on the agenda. Perceived Quality is an interesting process that puts the customer in the center of development. As a private user of products, I always find that I would like to see more Perceived Quality experts who are part of the development team and try to move product development in the right direction. The direction that leads to the fact that I can be sustainably enthusiastic about a product.

(4) Stylidis, K., Woxlin, A., Siljefalk, L., Heimersson, E., & Söderberg, R. (2020). Understanding light. A study on the perceived quality of car exterior lighting and interior illumination. Procedia CIRP, 93, 1340-1345.
(5) User-Centered Design, Abras, C., Maloney-Krichmar, D., Preece, J. (2004) User-Centered Design. In Bainbridge, W. Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
(6) DIN ISO 9001, process model
(8) Stylidis, K., Wickman, C., & Söderberg, R. (2020). Perceived quality of products: a framework and attributes ranking method. Journal of Engineering Design, 31(1), 37-67.