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We often release a test version of our web service to a select group of customers. This version of the web service normally has a few bugs and anomalies (database being reset every day) and we would like to remind customers that they are using a test environment.

What is the best way to tell visitors that they are using a test environment?

  • A banner across the top of every page with a contrasting background colour and relevant words, e.g. This is a test environment.
  • A watermark across the website
  • A different colour background across the website
  • A "Alpha" or "Beta" type label added to the web services logo?

What is the best practice here?

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Add "beta" sign besides the logo. – Ades May 23 '13 at 5:49
up vote 2 down vote accepted

We use a number of factors to indicate this, including:

  1. A URL that clearly indicates this. or are my preferences.
  2. A modified logo that includes the words "test" or "beta", whichever is clearer to whomever will be using the test version.
    enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here
  3. Change the colour of the header if you have one. This isn't particularly clear to most people, but it draws their attention to something being different from the non-test version which often leads them to noticing 1. or 2.
  4. In some cases a coloured background is used, but I tend to avoid that as often the design is part of the test, and changing the background colour has a large impact on my ability to get useful feedback on UX as it relates to visual aspects.
  5. A watermark is a better solution than 4. but it also has an impact on the design, so if you're testing parts of the visual UX or design, I would avoid this.

With only points 1-3 above, I have never had a problem with a user not realising that they are working on a test version, but then the users that I've worked with were typically very competent. If you choose your test users at random, then you may have to include 4. and/or 5.

As a side note, there are aspects that you wouldn't want performed on your live data that often need testing (such as deleting), and so it's often useful to create a separate environment with copies of the live data, that is stored separately. That way a user is free to try anything out without a risk of them damaging their live data.

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An obvious and explicit label (in the banner is good) indicating that it's a test version, along with the different colored background to reinforce it and act as a reminder when the banner isn't visible.

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