Finding quality in layers

If we try to define quality we will use many different parameters to make it measurable. These parameters differ from subject to subject. This makes it almost impossible to compare quality of a movie versus a book, even if they have the same story. But the medium does not simply allow us to say that one is better than the other, we mostly use our gut feeling to judge this. Although subjectivity is a big part of quality we still want to make it measurable, making it more objective.

We tend to measure quality to very specific parameters that apply to a medium or subject. This does not allow us to compare two different pieces. Even comparing a comedy movie with a action movie becomes really hard. But is there a universal way to measure quality?

I think there is!

Yes, quality is something that is very subjective. No, it is never possible to completely cover quality by just measuring. But, I feel there is one thing that all things with great quality have in common. All quality product are layered.

When tasting good wine, eating nice food, watching a nice movie or just admiring nature we enjoy the layering. The blend of different flavors in our food and drinks make it taste better. A comedy becomes better if the jokes are more than just flat jokes. Even in nature we can admire the beauty of the world not just by looking all the levels of details and combined with grandeur that a landscape brings. Artists agree that knowing and understanding art allows you to see even more of the beauty of certain pieces. Even scientists feel that there insights only make the world a more beautiful place.

Is layering the root of quality and beauty? maybe!


Lets define what a layer is to get a better understanding of how this thing could improve the overall outcome.

A layer is property that can be isolated from the complete picture. This extraction should be consumable on its own and have it’s own value. If we look at examples a painting has cut, texture, contrast, lighting, depth, idea, philosophy, color, technique and many other layers that make the painting what it is. If we take one of the extracts, color, and look at it isolated the color might be beautiful. It however cannot compete with the painting that has the colors distributed over the canvas in a certain way. And without an idea behind those shapes the painting is meaningless. Even though color has it’s own can be beautiful and have value it will only really shine if it is combined with other things.

This brings me to a couple of questions:

  • Do more layers mean a better end result?
  • Is the combination of layers important in creating a better result?
  • Do single layers also need to be of a certain quality?
  • Is the perception of layers important?


Many have seen the movie “The King’s Speech” and it has been highly awarded. Why?

I could analyze the whole movie here but there are very simple reasons why. The movie is very well filmed, the acting is of high quality and it is a compelling story. Let’s focus on one area, imagery, I know a bit more about that. If you see the picture below you can see how well this movie has been made by the way this shot is chosen. The microphone in the center of attention as it is the main subject in this shot. The leading man slightly to the left in the shot almost on the golden ratio line and the supporting cast on the right of the microphone in the background. But if you look more closely into the image you see more. The clothes the leading man is wearing are the same color at the audience. this makes him blend into the background, it makes him fragile. the supporting cast has recognizable clothing on that is different from the rest of the crowd. the depth goes from the left bottom to the right top, making it look like the main character is the center of attention here.

Many different shots could have been chosen here that all had different properties. But you see that the layering of all these properties together make this into a well shot image. As movies tell stories via imagery this images tells as much about the story as the sound, motions and acting. Just a still image here is telling a 1000 words without any movement or sound.

Throughout the movie this kind layering in the imagery is shown. The wardrobe is well picked to suit the situation. The way the image is shot supports the acting and the story. All these things come together to bring one very enjoyable movie.

With this said we see that a lot of layers does make the movie better. But also the combination and the interaction between the layers is very important! By looking at the image you’ll also see that high grade materials and tools were used to shoot this so individual quality matters. And last but not least. Me, analyzing this image for you might have shown you new layers of beauty within the movie that you might not have realized before.

You see that more layers that interact with one another build upon each others quality to provide a better quality result to the one who wants to perceive it.


How does this layering thing help me in measuring quality?

Well, we have seen that it is about the amount of layers, the interaction between layers and the quality of the individual layers. The perception part is not something you can influence. If you count the layers, count the interactions and see if the base quality is good you will still end up measuring that stupid quality thing. Cheap salmon from a can will never get turned into a 5 star dish. But a average quality salmon filet can be turned into a fine dish if combined with the correct ingredients. This does still not take away that with better base material the overall result will get much better.

So we are still stuck with this magic number that we call the quality of the base material. Could we ague that two average quality base products is better than one top quality base product? or is it three? I don’t think that we can answer the question with such a basic answer. The question remains with the magic quality number that we give to a certain layer. We do however isolate the problem to this one area.

Taking a step away from the quality of the individual layer and looking at the importance of the amount of layers and the interaction between them we can learn something. It shows us that we can use this information to create better dishes, movies, music and other products. Every time we stand before the task of creating a new thing we must think about how to layer the product. Think carefully about the amount of layers and the interactions between them.


In the end it is not about comparing one to the other, this is completely senseless anyways. But being aware of the fact that we perceive layers in a product and that the amount and interaction between the layers influence our opinion about its quality is interesting. This also points out the one thing I left out in measurement… our perception. I think this is the most important factor.

Why do children not appreciate Pixar movies like adults do? Why are many of them of such high quality? because they are working with the perception of  both audiences. They use comedy that can be perceived by children and they use comedy that is made for parents. They shine at telling one joke and catering both audiences at the same time, making both laugh about the same joke in different ways.

Richard Feynman talked about the layers and the eye of the beholder. If you really want to enjoy things to the fullest… educate yourself to be able perceive all the beauty in this world… Enjoy!

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