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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
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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

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

  1. A URL that clearly indicates this. test.yourdomain.com or beta.yourdomain.com 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.
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  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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