Have you ever seen an end product that you designed for, look and behave differently to what is built?

In this article, I’ll be talking about Creative QA (Quality Assurance) and the importance of collaboration and communication. In addition, this article will explain how Creative QA helps improve the product quality and escalates the delivery process.

My team and I have been working remotely for almost a year now and the importance of these 3 Cs (Creative QA, Communication, Collaboration) can’t be emphasised more, especially being the only designer working on a delivery team of 17 — I know… big team! The product is being developed for 2 main platforms — iOS and Android and both have react native integration as well. So technically, we have 3 teams of engineers and they overlap one way or another.

Before I go into the details of the process, you must be wondering what is Creative QA?

Creative QA is an activity where the designers, engineers, business analysts and the test analysts go through a feature before merging and pushing it to any test environment. During Creative QA, the aim is to:

  1. Validate the acceptance criteria
  2. Ensure the User Interface (UI) is pixel perfect and reflects the UI designs
  3. Make sure the User Experience (UX) is reflecting what is proposed in the customer journey flows
  4. Identify critical issues early at the start of development
  5. Most importantly, the team has a mutual understanding of what and how the feature should look and behave.

In more complex cases, it involves going through multiple user scenarios, error handling, interaction, animation and learning about respective platform native behaviours and gives a chance to identify platform specific issues.

We usually have engineers from both platforms (iOS & Android) to be in the Creative QA meeting even when the feature in review is for one of the platforms. This is to ensure the team from both platforms are aligned on what has been built. Of course, this is totally flexible and entirely up to you and your team to decide who needs to be in it. Sometimes if the ticket doesn’t have front end development, the designer wouldn’t be in that session.

Here is a diagram showing who is involved in a Shoulder Check timeline, put together by Kelly Chin — Senior Test Analyst, who incorporated shoulder checks into our project delivery process. Creative QA (highlighted in green) is done as part of the shoulder check in the diagram below.

During this process, any issues and questions can be raised during shoulder checks so that it can be answered and fixed quickly, thus promoting a fast feedback loop and combined accountability within the team.

With the whole team working from home, it forces us to be more collaborative and communicative rather than working in isolation — which we probably have enough of.

One might ask, why should you care about Creative QA?

Reduce manual testing time and learn how test analysts test.

With Creative QA, we aren’t only testing the functionality, we are also proposing UX or/and UI solutions to issues which usually are discovered only when it’s pushed to test environments. That’s too late. So wouldn’t it be better if we could avoid that and save some manual testing for the test analysts in your team?

Test analysts will test the product the same way your users would use it. In fact, they will try all means and ways to break it. Through collaboration and discussions during Creative QA, I discovered that it provided the entire team insight on how they test the product and how users would use it. This is similar to user testing but instead of testing a prototype, we’re testing a build.

Which brings me to my next point..

Sharing (Knowledge) is caring.

jar visual showing the creative QA process

Everyone brings a different set of skills and an abundance of knowledge to the table. I’ve learned so much more about native platform behaviours through Creative QA as the scenarios are all in context instead of reading through Apple Human Interface guidelines or Material Design guidelines. Through these learnings, I have a better understanding of native guidelines and will be able to keep them in mind when working on future projects.

Do not think that engineers and test analysts are only there to build and test things, they can provide one of the best UX perspectives and UI interactions for the product and enhance the experience and quality — again, team collaboration. Sometimes during these sessions, there would even be a short impromptu mini workshop to quickly troubleshoot UX solutions for a feature — I really enjoy that! There are a few instances where I have changed the UX and UI of a feature during Creative QA as it would be a better experience for the users.

With new UX/UI updates like this, I would usually update the designs in Figma so it stays consistent with the build. Therefore, in future, if a new team member comes on board, they will be able to see the latest designs being consistent with the build. However, with all these cool recommendations, sometimes we aren’t able to build it prior to the product release because we are aiming for a minimal viable product (MVP) at the start. Even if there isn’t enough time to add these additional recommendations, they can be documented and added to the backlog for future enhancement.

How is Creative QA being incorporated into the delivery process?

There are 2 parts:

Before development: Story Kick-Offs

  • When an engineer picks up a ticket that requires front end development, they will organise a 15 minutes video call (time-boxed) with the necessary team members to kick off the story ticket.
  • During story kick-offs, the designer will have ready any prototypes, screenshots, video recordings or animation and will walk them through with the team to ensure everyone understands the flow before the engineer starts development.
  • Anyone in the session will then take down notes and post it in Slack and the story ticket after the meeting, and will ask any questions during development if they have any. This is to ensure that there are no misinterpretations.

After development: Creative QA

  • The engineer will organise another video call meeting with the same team members to go through the build. During this call, any new updates will be noted down and the engineer will make the updates after. They will either organise another video call for a review or send through screenshots or screen recording of the updates if they are sufficient enough. However, if the updates can be made on the spot, they will do that to save time.
  • Once the feature is reviewed and approved by all team members, the engineer will create a pull request. Usually the pull request only consists of engineers but we have recently incorporated adding designers and/or test analysts as mandatory reviewers (depending on the ticket) when a pull request is created. This allows me to double check if all updates have been made and is consistent with the designs.
  • Not all tickets require a shoulder check so it is best to review the ticket early during Sprint planning and state whether the ticket requires one or not.

I’m sharing practicing Creative QA from my perspective as a designer and my learnings from working remotely with a big team. This activity will not be possible without collaboration and communication and there are 101 ways to improve product quality and agile delivery process and Creative QA isn’t a one size fits all. However, it is a flexible activity that has proven to work well and has definitely improved the product quality developed by my team.

Why not try it out with yours? Never try, never know. 🤓

Jo Tan portrait

Jo Tan

Senior UI Designer,Melbourne

Jo Tan portrait

Jo Tan

Senior UI Designer,Melbourne