Survey Tools Race to Improve User Experience

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The recent Big (D)esign conference in Dallas, which gathered many in the graphic design industry, website developers, and gamers, dedicated a track to usability. This track included a presentation by Ryan Smith from Qualtrics. Smith discussed how survey tools are evolving to provide a better user experience and match what’s happening in other areas where technology is setting the pace. Using examples from Qualtrics, he demonstrated how survey tools are allowing us to be:

  • More interactive: Different questions types have emerged in an attempt provide a more interactive experience to respondents, engage them, increase response rate and response accuracy. Examples include:
    • Rating questions using sliders, images instead of numbers of text and gauges, among others

    Interactive Rating Questions

    • Constant sum questions using draggable bars.

    Interactive Constant Sum Questions

    • Text Highlight and Heat Maps.

    Hightlighting and Heat Maps

  • More intelligent: Technology allows us now to do on-the-fly analysis to personalize the experience and integrate survey results with other data sources on a timely manner. We can use advanced skip logic to present relevant questions and capture session information to improve data quality (e.g. removing speeders).
  • Better subject selection: Online surveys can be distributed in different ways offer better access to the target audience. Surveys can be deployed using pop-up, pop-under, pop-over, feedback links, embedded links, and link redirects. This allow us to go where the respondents are.
  • More immediate: Organizations can quickly conduct surveys with internal resources (DIY research). Survey results can be monitored since the moment the survey is launched. Online reporting capabilities allow us to get updated results continuously. The extent to which we limit or extend result sharing is under our control.

There is no doubt that technology has made it possible to create more engaging surveys, clean the data on-the-fly, facilitate access to surveys, and provide quick results. However, before you jump on the wagon of the cool question types, consider these issues:

  • Need: Determine which interactive features are necessary, which ones are more of a novelty, which ones do not help respondents directly to complete the survey, and which ones increase respondents’ burden.
  • Culture: When introducing graphic elements like images (e.g. smilies) or graphic representations of objects (thermometers, gauges, etc.), consider who your target audience is and what cultural barriers may influence reactions to these questions. This is especially true in international studies.
  • Expectations: People are used to traditional question types, so it may be unclear what it is expected from them. Clear instructions about the scale meaning and actions the respondent need to take are recommended. This may not be a problem, once these question formats become the norm, but for now, we need to ensure respondents know how to interact with the questions.
  • Impact on completion rates and data quality. The time needed to get familiar with the new question format, process the instructions (even if it takes a few seconds) and question complexity may affect completion rates and data quality. Research on this is a mixed bag, so to be on the safe side, test the questions with a few members of the target audience before a full launch.
  • Reaching people with disabilities: The new question types are often not 508 compliant, making it difficult for people with disabilities to participate in surveys. If you need to reach respondents that may have disabilities, stick to the traditional formats.

Comments Comments

Sandy Yost Posted: January 8, 2012


Have you done any comparisons of fee-based survey tools? I’ve read your comparison of the 3 major free survey tools – which is a GREAT comparison; so I am just wondering if you have done a similar comparison for tools must be paid for. I used Qualtrics last year, but would like to understand what other software/services are available.


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