Beta Tests: Too Late for a Redesign?

Unless you are living under a rock, you are probably aware that Apple released a beta of iOS 7 to developers a few days ago. Since then, almost everyone (including this writer) has judged, decided, and made their opinions known. The real question to ask, however, is “How much is set in stone during the beta phase, and how much can change at this point?”

Traditionally, alpha testing is done in-house and is the time when features are made robust, changed, and otherwise fleshed out. At this point the visual design is also being finalized. Alpha testing is the perfect time to make sure assumptions from the design phase were right and that everything flows the way it should.

Beta testing is traditionally the phase in which people outside the office get their hands on the software and “kick the tires.” In this phase, a lot of bugs come to surface because users are inputting real data, not test data, and making mistakes (or changing the order in which they are doing things) in ways that the developers haven’t imagined. Generally, features are finalized by this point, and while they can be finessed in the beta phase, this is mainly the time that the developers make sure the features work. It’s not the phase in which they go back to the drawing board and redo major things, unless there are serious problems. This holds true for the visual design as well.

In the beta phase, the visual language has already been decided. Maybe there are some “beta icons” or buttons that will be replaced, but important ideas like palette have already been decided.

When it comes to the Apple beta of iOS 7, some of the major complaints include issues with the palette. On a personal level, I found the interface difficult to use, especially in the case of iMessage, which features anemic white text on lime green backgrounds. The font is already tough to read that small, and putting it on such a low contrast (and bright) background makes it impossible to read. Many people are commenting on the “flat” look. The reality is that this is how things are progressing in the design world. 3D bevels and such are on the outs, and clean, flat looks are becoming popular. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to differentiate buttons, labels, and other graphical user interface (GUI) elements so they both look good and are functional.

The biggest question now is will Apple be listening to what everyone is saying? Apple has a history of not really seeking input on its design ideas. But with the amount of backlash the user interface (UI) of iOS 7 has already received in its first week, will this “beta” test regress to a phase in which it’s OK for Apple to go back to the drawing board with some of the ideas? Or can Apple finesse the UI in this beta phase so it is more useable?

In your design ad development phases, do you make room for the ability to make drastic changes late in the game? Or is your development cycle such that by the time you enter “beta” testing, everything is too locked down to change?

Time will tell if Apple is listening to its customers and developers, or if iOS 7’s major problems are falling on deaf ears in Cupertino.

Until next time…

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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