The Art and Science of Quality

Al Curtis Headshot
photo of a paint ring rendering

“Quality on the physical level is science. On the emotional level it’s art.”

Quality — we all want it, chase after it and often pay more for it. Yet how much do we really understand quality and how to achieve it?

For people who work in the fields of quality assurance, quality is measurable, definable to strict standards and metrics. Still, so much of what gives a product or service its true value is immeasurable, at least by any scientific standards.

Even the dictionary definition allows a huge degree of subjectivity on the topic: “The standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something; a high level of value or excellence” is how Merriam-Webster defines the term, leaving it wide open for not just interpretation, but comparison.

So how do we define quality when it comes to building pools?

Quality can be judged in any number of ways. You can use superior materials. You can use regular-grade products and assemble them in a way that exceeds the quality of the original product. You can even use random, interesting, non-standard materials – reclaimed wood, broken glass, rusty metal – and put them together in the most spectacular way so that it answers a completely different definition of quality.

You see, on the physical level, quality happens when you use science. The best mix of aggregates in your concrete, combined with exactly the right amount of water at precise temperatures, cured and poured perfectly make for a scientifically-proven level of quality.

But for most of us, quality happens on an emotional level. If something is of superior value, it just feels better, smoother, more solid, more lasting. It feels luxurious or one-of-a-kind in a way that makes us love it and want to have it in our lives.

For me, as a pool builder, I come at quality from an energetic standpoint. Far beyond just choosing quality materials, I direct my team to use those materials in the spirit of excellence, to do our best with what we have and give our all to the job.

I have a customer who used to sneak out at night after the crew went home and check the day’s work with his levels and tape measures. That’s okay; he has a scientific mind and it was his way of reassuring himself that we were doing good work.

His wife, on the other hand, is more of an artistic soul who watched the crew from her office window while they worked. She told me she could see each of us was leaving a little something of ourselves at the job site each day, in the way we relished the work we did and threw our passion into it.

For both the scientist and the artist, they saw quality in our process, and that leads to excellence in the final product.

It means attention to all the little details, the color combinations, the textures and how they all work together. Quality makes us feel better. There’s love in it, passion in it, and an excitement for what we’re doing. We’ve become masters of combining the pieces together to create an environment that speaks of high quality.

Look at Picasso and his artwork. Does his quality spring from the finest paper or canvas, the best inks or paints? No, it was the passion and talent he put into it that allowed him to create beauty that has endured.

We take that artistic approach in the hybrid pools we create, taking the standard materials available to anyone in the industry and adapting them for our needs. For example, we use TRU-Tile, a track system from Latham Industries that allows us to add ceramic tile with a vinyl liner in our pools. They make a great product that works really well with our hybrid design. But there is always one spot that troubles us a little bit — the skimmer faceplate. The way the system is designed, the finished plate sticks out almost an inch from the tile. Functionally, that’s fine, but we feel it detracts from the finished product. So we’ve created a technique where we inset the face plate so it’s flush with the tile. A somewhat minor detail, to be sure, yet it’s the hundreds and thousands of those minor details that define our overall quality.

We’ve created a culture of quality that’s part science, part art and all heart. I tell my crew members that if they don’t love what they are doing – every shovel full of dirt and barrow full of concrete – they should look for other work, because the energy of what we’re doing is just as important as the quality of the materials. When everyone loves what they do, there’s love in the mix. And that, my friends, is at the heart of a quality pool.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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