10 Design Principles to Help Improve Survey Engagement

Sophie Grieve-Williams

Co-Creating the Future of Survey Participant Exper...

At the recent ASC International Conference, I had the pleasure of running a workshop about the chall...


Paul Hudson

    Surveys have been the most popular research method since the conception of market research. They are a still-flourishing method that stakeholders continually turn to as a first port of call and research participants are most comfortable completing. But because of this familiarity and comfort, they sometimes aren’t held to the same standard of quality as other, newer research tasks that have something to prove.

    Surveys are so common now that some consumers treat them as spam, and response rates for surveys has drastically diminished to the point where the insight industry needs a panel of many participants to get the desired responses from a few. Ramping up survey engagement is a crucial topic of conversation that we have had many times over throughout the decades of using the survey research method.

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    Surveys have been popular since the dawn of market research, but how do we innovate to keep respondent attention? By applying select design principles to improve UX.

    There have been many actions based on these discussions, with new innovations aiding our efforts to make it easier and more engaging for both researchers and respondents – but rarely have we seen design principles applied to the design and creation of a survey. Can design principles be applied to survey design to decrease churn rates and improve retention? I think they can.


    Improving Survey User Experience

    Improving survey user experiences with design principles introduces a new way of thinking about traditional research methods. These are guiding elements that can influence the intricacies of survey design in a way that can help attain and maintain respondent attention, increasing their engagement in the research.

    Principles such as contrast, balance, emphasis, proportion, and movement are all individual elements that take on entirely different aspects of the survey design, tackling the visual and overall feel of the design and making sure the respondent’s attention is drawn to the right places at the right time for maximum impact.

    “Variety is the very spice of life” according to William Cowper in his poem ‘The Task’. Very apt in this case, as variety is the spice that will retain respondent attention until the very end of the survey. But any variety must be in balance with the principles of pattern, rhythm and repetition, to make sure those elements are well represented and provide equal impact within the survey. Researchers must find a way to balance variety with those other elements in order to create the best survey design possible.

    Interlocking Principles

    There are two distinct principles that are made up of the others, and those are hierarchy and unity. Both are crucial elements that take into account to help create a survey that makes sense to the user on a fundamental, functional level as well as an elevated ‘bigger picture’ level.

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    From contrast and emphasis to rhythm, hierarchy and unity, there are many design principles that can elevate a survey and provide an universally pleasing UX.

    There is a natural hierarchy to a survey in two aspects - firstly, in the bigger picture, where there will be a definite starting question and a definite ending question - everything else in between will have its own dedicated place in the hierarchy of questions according to importance. Secondly, within each question, there will be a smaller obvious hierarchy which determines that the question should go first on the page and the answer second, unless there is an image or other media that stakeholders need opinions on, in which case the natural order would be question, media and then answer.

    Unity influences the design on a much larger scale than hierarchy, as it unifies all other principles within a survey, making sure that every element coexists with the others in harmony; when taking a step back to examine the survey design as a whole, if something feels off then the unity principle cannot be fulfilled – tweak each element in turn if needed to see which one is causing the trouble, and then fix it.

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