Guide To Test Design Specification: With Best Practices

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  • Guide To Test Design Specification: With Best Practices


Test design specification is a document that define test conditions, a detailed test approach, and high-level test cases associated with a test item. It determines which test suites and test cases to run and which to skip.

Using test design specification, you can simplify understanding of the current testing cycles. Simple questions like “what are we doing?”, “how are we doing?” and “why are we doing this?” are all answered in this document. However, to achieve the result, many things must flow correctly in creating specifications to make perfect sense.

In the software industry, the word "specification" might not be unfamiliar to anyone. According to the theoretical definition, a specification is a detailed description of the design and materials that go into making something. Specifications have taken on many forms and have served multiple departments with different purposes.

For a developer, software requirements specification (SRS) might be the first document to note down his understanding and convey it to the customer or other team members. For testers, the SRS document becomes a test design specification (TDS) that serves the same purpose but is focused purely on testing and is just for testers.

What is Test design?

The clarity of the specification depends a lot on our understanding of test design and its role in the testing domain.

A test design provides an idea about the tests you perform on the software applications. It’s important to note that the test design is expected to be constructed before the testing and not during or after. In this way, we know which paths to take and avoid.

Building a test design consist of three stages:


The first stage we pass through is test analysis. In this stage, we analyze the application and all other things we have with us. All the data a tester collects in the analysis stage will act as the basis for our test cases later.


Once we have analyzed the application and gathered unstructured raw data, we plan on using all our resources for efficient testing. This can depend heavily on the type of software we release to the user. A game application may need a lot of UI, UX, and hardware response testing. It may not be so important to worry about these points in a banking application.

Creation of test cases

Moving ahead, we have resources and a structure to use these resources on the software during the testing phase. We, therefore, start creating test suites keeping in mind that we are working according to the plan we created in the previous stage. Test suite creation may or may not indicate programming scripts or English-based definitions of it.

In some organizations, a developer may define the application goals clearly through test suites that, in turn, determine the system's functionalities. For example, “checking a file upload” can be a test suite that contains test cases related to an upload box. After this, a tester may explore various areas in file upload, such as uploading files with allowed extensions, uploading files with improper extensions, disconnecting the in-between internet uploads, etc.

On the other hand, if QAs are directly involved, they can even design test suites in the scripted form directly here.

Once we are done with all these three things, our test design is complete. But this was highly focused on the testing part of the application. Obviously, this will be the core of the test design document we need to create. Combining test design with other elements required to complete documentation forms test design specification.

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What is the Test design specification?

A test design defines how our testing will take a structure. When we go one level deeper into this concept, we arrive at test design specifications or a document that is much richer and more profound than the test design for the testers (or sometimes for the developers).

It not only talks about the testing and scenarios but also answers deeper questions related to the tests. For instance:

  • How to perform tests?
  • How often do we have to perform them?
  • What are the methods we are using?
  • Why are we using these methods?
  • What are the test tools we are picking up?
  • Why are we picking up these tools?
  • What are the test scenarios with detailed explanations?

And a lot more can be added according to the testers or the need for the project/organization.

A test design specification revolves around the features rather than test cases, as in test design. When discussing it, we consider individual features and document what test cases or scenarios (taken from the test design pool) will be used for this feature in testing. Therefore, we create multiple test design specifications for a single software.

Format of Test design specification

It is likely that we will encounter different viewpoints from different people across test design specifications. Even if we eliminate geographies, you and I could produce entirely different specifications (or any document). This is because what I perceive as necessary may not be crucial for you and vice-versa.

To bail out such situations in the software industry, the IEEE organization handles, manages, and regulates each type of specification. IEEE contains a vast database that defines standards for each phase of software development and starts even before a single line of code is written.

Searching for a particular specification may become time-consuming for someone targeting a specific area in SDLC. To manage such situations, IEEE describes a number that refers to a standard document in one area. For our test plan, test design, and test case specifications, we work on IEEE 829 documents.

IEEE 829 describes the following essential elements necessary to be described inside the document:

  • Test design specification identifier.
  • Features to be tested.
  • Approach refinements.
  • Test case identification.
  • Feature pass/fail criteria.

Let’s analyze them individually.


The first essential element while creating the design specification is the identifier. This is logged at the top of the document and is unique for each test design specification. The need for this element in the document is that one software may contain many specifications relating to a single feature or group of features.

To describe a unique identifier to these documents, we can identify the summary of each document without actually opening them. This arrangement helps us find things faster and ultimately helps in wrapping the testing phase quickly.

While creating a test design specification identifier, do keep in mind the following points:

  • The name should be short and unique.
  • Specify the version date number.
  • Author of the specification and their contact details such as email id.
  • Clearly define revision history (if any.)

Features to be tested

The second element of the test design specification, as per IEEE 829, defines the list of features you need to test. Generally, this corresponds to the requirements taken from the pool (containing all the requirements) as defined by the higher management or, in some cases, by the client. These requirements satisfy the application's features, and hence the name “features to be tested” is given to it.

The testers should carefully combine all the test case specifications to satisfy all pool requirements. Without them, our application is at risk of being pushed with bugs and loopholes.

As per IEEE, the following things need to be covered in the design specification.

  • Features - Attributes and characteristics.
  • Features - If grouping exists.
  • If more than one level of testing is involved in the test plan, figure out what levels are covered for a particular feature.
  • A reference to the document that contains the pool of requirements.

Approach refinements

The third section of the test design specification works with the feature refinements and our approach. The “refinements” part has a few specified sections that are essential to be included. However, testers are free to add a few of their own on top of it.

As a tester, you can consider this segment the deepest level of knowledge a tester may need to document for other testers, especially those who have not been a part of the project. Essentially it should answer every question related to the technicalities of testing. ‘

As per IEEE, this level of knowledge is divided into the following sections:

  • Specifics of test techniques: This part will include fewer details about the test techniques used in each feature.
  • Why a test technique is used: The details about why a specific test technique has been used and the advantage it would bring with it.
  • Result analysis methodology: It highlights how the testing phase results have been analyzed. The main aim of this section is to define methods used in result analysis and the mentioned tools used for the same. The tester can also mention why a tool has been used and its purpose. For example, JMeter has been used to analyze the load testing results.
  • Feature-level relationship: This section defines the relationship between a feature or the test items and the testing level.
  • Standard information: Any information common to several features/test cases that the tester thinks is relevant should be shared in this section. This may include test environment information, setup information, recovery information, and dependencies.

IEEE describes these sections in the order above. It is not necessary to follow such strict steps. Only the completeness of information in the test design specification is required.

Test identification

This section of the design specification describes the test cases in English so that the reader can get an idea about the test case before diving into the specifics of it.

This section is divided into two parts:

  • Test case identification deals with brief knowledge about each test case.
  • Test procedure identification deals with short knowledge about each test procedure.

Feature pass/fail criteria

Last but not least, the feature pass/fail criteria must be included in the test design specification. We aim to either put down the passing measures for a test or the fail measures and analyze the results.

For instance, if a test case corresponds to Sign up on the website,” the pass criteria would be the user is created in the database.” If you are using the fail criteria, then the user is not created in the database is what would mean a test has failed.

The criteria described here help us assess the final, conclusive results for all the test cases clarifying what it would mean when we say the test has passed or failed.



When a tester joins the team, naturally, the team gets bombarded with different types of questions. Besides defining the methodologies and standard procedures, project-based questions can consume most of your time.

Clarifying all the doubts over a call and providing explanations for each test case along with “why are we doing this” is not feasible and, honestly, cannot be remembered by a new member so quickly. To tackle this, we take the help of documentation.

Documentations in every domain provide reference material for team members and people involved in the project, either technically or non-technically. Since these are the times when people come together from different parts of the world to make one great software, a standard for this documentation is also required so that everyone is on the same page when we are referring to something in the test designs.

IEEE is the organization that takes care of such things and provides a standard segmented document called test design specification that works in the field of test designs and documents everything related to the testing process, including features and choices that the team has made.

This post by Harish Rajora is all about this document and breaking down these complex segments into simple and understandable concepts. Hope this guide provides a quick reference to build a robust test design specification for your next project.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are test design specifications?

Test design specifications refine the test approach and identify the features to be covered by the design and tests associated with it. In addition to identifying requirements, test cases, and test procedures, it specifies criteria for passing or failing a feature.

What is test specification?

Test specifications are blueprints that show the design of a test. They are written at the item level to be used by developers or item writers to create new versions of a test for different test-taking populations.

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