Design in beta testing

Beta testing allows designers to roll out their designs to a segment of their target audience with the ability to iterate and test quickly in a real-world environment. While much of the beta test process is managed by product managers and engineers, it provides valuable opportunities for design innovation and improvement. Being prepared to contribute to beta planning, testing and analysis is a great way to help optimize the product design.

Usability vs beta testing

While beta testing and usability testing are both integral to continually iterate on products, the goals of each test, the environment and the timing differ.

Designers conduct usability testing before the product is developed and after it has launched. It is typically done with specific questions or tasks in mind to ensure that the processes proposed are effective. This helps ensure that the right product is created early on at a lower cost to the company. When conducting usability testing the user is typically in a controlled environment and conducting specific, instructed tasks.

Beta testing is the testing of a live product in the market. Rather than testing functionality, the business is testing the concept of the product and if users will use it. It is typically done on a subset of users before fully introducing the product to the entire audience. The users are using the product in a real environment and interacting without prompts from a designer.

Benefits of beta testing

While usability testing is essential to UX and product design, beta testing is a tool that is less common in the design process. It can be an expensive way to test out new ideas but if your company can define a low-cost process for releasing products to small audience segments, it can really pay off. A few of the benefits of having access to beta tests are:

  • The ability to detect bugs before the entire audience is using the product.
  • Testing specific features on larger audiences in real-world applications.
  • Creating a culture of iterating and refining the user experience.
  • Understanding user needs and tendencies rather than relying on assumptions.
  • Setting benchmark analytics before introducing the product to a larger demographic.
  • Testing and refining product processes before formal training.

Opportunities in the beta test process

As products go through your company’s process to get to beta testing, there are a few things you can advocate for and monitor from the design side.

Minimum viable features – With beta tests, often speed is prioritized over comprehensive features. As a designer, you want to be ready to advocate for the features that are essential to the user experience. Missing key functionality may confuse your user or have them question the product value. Details on the other hand, such as transitions or icons, can be optimized later on.

Plan for experiments – While the beta test is an overarching experiment, you will want to be testing small features and styles to optimize the product. Before launch, plan what aspects of the design you want to experiment with during beta. Be prepared to try new things while you have the time.

Success metrics – Based on the design experiments you hope to run, define success for the product. This is often broken down into two types of success measurements: qualitative and quantitative. The quantitative tests are things like click-through rates, time spent on page or engagement with interactive content. Qualitative tests are direct user feedback that give actionable context to the numbers, why the user is engaging with your product, emotional response to the brand or reservations customers have. Using these metrics to track your experiments will help guide product decisions.

Direct user feedback – Make sure to keep an open line of communication with your audience during this time. Forms or direct emails that let users know the product is still in development and you want to hear from them are useful for gathering qualitative feedback. By being forward about your intentions with the test, you can develop strong relationships with your users and get honest responses to the product.

Internal process improvements – While you are monitoring the external audience’s reception you can also monitor internal process inefficiencies. Understanding how the content creation process is working behind the scenes and how team members are building or maintaining the product is important. Standardizing internal user flows or content creation will help make the launch easier.

All of these unique beta testing opportunities can help you create the best possible product. Once the test is done, take the time to reflect on all of your metrics, tests and conversations. With your design findings, you can help refine the features, processes and content to create a comprehensive and well-designed product for a greater audience.