Quality assurance or why the devil is in the details

Author:
Magda Hutny

Quality assurance or why the devil is in the details

One could say the “devil is in the details” when it comes to space missions where lives are at stake and financial risks are on the line. And yet, this proverb can also be applied to my role in quality assurance at Admind where it truly is all about the details.

In July 1962, the Mariner 1 spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral on NASA’s first planetary mission — a flyby of Venus to collect data on our closest neighbor. Shortly after launch, Mariner 1 veered off course over the Atlantic Ocean which could have led to a disaster with shipping lanes and sparked an imminent risk of causalities. Luckily, a quick-thinking range safety officer ordered the craft’s destruction 293 seconds after launch. It turned out that a missing hyphen in coded computer instructions was the source of the glitch. At a price tag of 19 million dollars at the time, (more than 170 million dollars today) the now infamous glitch — was billed as the most expensive hyphen in history. 

What is quality assurance?

I’m responsible for quality assurance within the Presentation Design Services Team. I wear many hats in my job which makes my work interesting and varied. I’m familiar not only with a designer’s perspective in creative design but also with software capabilities (i.e., our everyday tools), brand principles as well as internal brand communications, and information from the client. I mostly work in PowerPoint presentation design but I also support other departments that prepare materials for printing, electronic, and web components with presentation support services.

How exactly does quality assurance work and what role does it play in the overall professional presentation design process?

Usually, the client provides ready content or an existing PowerPoint presentation design (for brand management, sales, learning & development, etc.) that we tweak to fit the client’s current brand guidelines. Sometimes, it requires redesigning all the elements if, for example, the client has undergone a brand transformation. At the start of the process, a coordinator assigns tasks to specific team members. Usually, there is a single designer overseeing an overall design, but others might be brought in if the project is complex and requires intricate illustrations among other components.

My role at this stage may include actively working on the project, for example, setting up numeric formats or text alignment. This reduces the need for corrections and speeds up the entire process.

When the professional presentation is complete, I begin a thorough analysis of the entire PPT design. I check that all necessary components are in place, that the content is consistent with the client’s brand guidelines, and that it supports the client’s brand identity. Such an analysis includes various aspects: from the project’s visual and textual coherence which encompasses typesetting and formatting, to making certain that illustrative graphics and color palettes conform to the brand’s communication strategy. [2] At this stage, my analysis is detail-oriented. For example, I might examine whether a redesigned map legend is effective and clear in its relationship to its original map along with its accuracy in relation to Google Maps. In other words, I look for anything and everything that might pose an issue. My role is to make sure we have the best corporate presentation.

If the project encompasses the creation of several design PowerPoint presentations, which need to be put together by various team members, my role will expand to include maintaining overall compliance by collecting and standardizing all the files for all the presentations. Obviously, the designers communicate with each other to make sure all their i’s are dotted and all their t’s are crossed to uphold brand consistency across deliverables, but inconsistencies always crop up in the realm of professional presentation design services, and therefore, fall under the purview of quality assurance. In other words, the devil truly is in the details.

Given my professional background and my proven track record, quality assurance is my bailiwick. With ten years under my belt as an editor for an advertising agency, I have harnessed the ability to review all aspects in corporate design service presentations, even though my focus is no longer solely on the editorial stages of writing, copy editing, and proofreading.

Here, at Admind, we continually offer relevant workshops and tutorials in the realm of brand management services, brand migration services, and business presentation design services. We target technical areas (layout and design templates, font usage, image management) and esthetics (color palette choice, line thickness, typesetting, and text alignment). This ongoing training, along with daily consultation services, and our joint past experiences enable each accomplished designer to perform quality checks.

In addition to technical and design ability, a quality assurance professional needs patience and finesse. It takes a unique personality with a keen eye for balancing the big picture challenges with tiny tasks, whether it’s adhering to an overall design theme, or making certain that a particular shade of blue is used for the new logo in a brand transformation, or adding that missing comma in the first sentence of a presentation.

And speaking of the fine art of finesse — interpersonal and communication skills also play a significant role in my work as a quality assurance professional. When it comes to suggesting changes, particularly on a larger scale, it’s important to be tactful and respectful of the designer who has mastered their craft and devoted a great deal of effort on a particular project.

As you can see, we invest a lot of time and attention in quality assurance, even though it often comes down to minute details. Why? One could argue that it doesn’t really matter, that it’s ultimately about the project’s driving idea and overall presentation design. Well, those aspects are certainly essential. But think of the last time you read a book by your favorite author, and halfway through you encounter a page riddled with spelling errors and poor punctuation. It takes you out of the story and undermines your enjoyment. You might be left with a feeling of dissatisfaction, or of being let down, or perhaps even a feeling of being cheated.

These so-called “minor errors” can also have calamitous consequences as we recall with the Mariner 1 failure. Another example of the “devil is in the details” is a case of a Russian man named Dmitry Agarkov. After receiving a credit card application from the bank, he filled out the agreement and returned it—but he altered the fine print: no annual percentage rate (APR), no charges and penalties for the cardholder, and humongous financial penalties for the bank in their attempts to terminate the agreement.

The bank staff members accepted the agreement without re-reading it, because at first sight it looked identical to a standard one. They didn’t notice anything suspicious for the next two years. It wasn’t until the bank tried to change the contract conditions in court that a judge ruled in favor of the client (because the bank employee who had accepted the application had not been prevented from reading the contract, they simply failed to do so, and signed the agreement to the detriment of the bank).[3]

In the area of quality assurance, we pay particular attention to checking whether numbers, locations, and facts are presented in compliance to the information the client has provided. Collateral damage is clearly out of the question, but let’s assume that in the column titled “2018 income in USD,” we mistakenly enter “3.0” instead of “30 bn.” A momentary lapse of focus could very well result in the client losing a vital contract. Practicing alternative geography, i.e., placing the city of London somewhere on the North Sea or in the Republic of Ireland, could easily happen after an accidental click on the dot symbolizing the city on a map. This small error might result in a public debacle in the press during an economic summit.

It’s true that authors, composers, and creators of all stripes should be aware of all aspects of their work, but everybody can certainly use another pair of benevolent eyes. This enables us to look at our work from a fresh perspective. Even (or perhaps especially) extraordinary artists have always relied on insight and valuable feedback from the people around them: significant others, friends, trusted editors, even critics. For example, while shooting Star Wars, George Lucas listened carefully to advice from his wife Marcia, at the time. Her ideas and suggested changes had a significant impact on how the entire saga turned out. One of Lucas’s biographers went so far as to call Marcia the director’s “secret weapon”.[4] This moniker, as exaggerated as it might sound, vividly highlights the importance of constructive criticism and healthy collaboration.

Even the most meticulous author needs support for a simple reason: one person cannot catch all the mistakes. In Polish publishing houses it was a best practice to have a text undergo a copy edit first and then two rounds of proofreading, with two different proofreaders performing the check. Even with three levels of editorial examination, it was still possible to overlook a mistake or even make a new one.

People responsible for quality assurance are also the first line of defense when it comes to any project. If anything is unclear to them, if anything seems cumbersome to them, it’s highly likely that others will see it as equally troublesome.

In addition, I am not only a devil’s advocate I am also the audience’s spokesperson. By enforcing consistency across typesetting and visual choices, I look after the interests of the readers or viewers, so they don’t get lost in the project or become confused by any of the information. By eliminating linguistic and formatting errors from the text, I ensure a positive experience for the client, reinforcing the confidence in our presentation design services team, and upholding our design agency’s reputation.

Ultimately, I consider quality assurance to be a key part of the end user’s experience. Even without turning to ad hoc testing processes, we still have hundreds of years of proof that quality assurance is crucial. The very first major book printed in Europe, i.e., the Gutenberg Bible, comprises hundreds of word divisions — because Gutenberg obsessively wanted to get “the perfect gray type area without the rivers and holes,”[5] which makes reading easier. Since then, printers, graphic designers, authors, editors, and marketing experts have developed a plethora of rules and clever ways to make the entire project both thorough and engaging to the reader or viewer.

At the end of the day, searching for the “devil in the details” is both a satisfying and rewarding experience.


Magda Hutny

Presentation Designer at Admind. Prior to her current role, she spent many years working as an editor for one of Krakow’s advertising agencies, getting to know the advertising industry through and through. She proofread and copy edited diverse content, from advertising materials (BTL, ATL, print and web, branding, PR), through lifestyle articles, to academic and scholarly texts.

In her free time, she travels and is a compulsive reader of all kinds of cultural texts. She’s into conspiracy theories (ironically) and punctuation (seriously).


Annotations:

[1] In this particular case, some people claim it was an overbar. See I.R. Walker, Reliability in Scientific Research, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2011, p. 7, and J. MacNeil, Mariner 1 destroyed due to code error, July 22, 1962, EDN Network [online], July 22, 2018 [retrieved 23.08.2018]. Available on the Internet: https://www.edn.com/electronics-blogs/edn-moments/4418667/Mariner-1-destroyed-due-to-code-error–July-22–1962.

[2] I feel that one of the most demanding and exhausting aspects of an editor’s work isn’t staying up at night nor checking the same text for the thousandth time, but compulsively catching typos and double spaces. I assure you that while it can take the fun out of any leisure reading, double spaces missed during an auto check are an easy source of professional satisfaction.

[3] See [author unknown] Man Who Outwitted Bank Ends $700K Lawsuit, The Moscow Times [online], Aug. 15 2013 [retrieved 9.10.2018]. Available in the Internet: https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/man-who-outwitted-bank-ends-700k-lawsuit-26770.

[4] See F. Chung, The ‘secret weapon’ behind Star Wars, news.com.au [online], December 17, 2015 [retrieved 23.09.2018]. Available in the Internet: https://www.news.com.au/finance/business/media/the-secret-weapon-behind-star-wars/news-story/75eb078a8b14d93fce23b06e98805ffb.

[5] H. Zapf, “About Micro-Typography and the Hz-Program,” Electronic Publishing 6, no. 3 (1993), p. 283–88. See also K. Houston, Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols and Other Typographical Marks, W. W. Norton & Company, New York–London 2013.

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