It is imperative to strategically design your survey, paying close attention to overall format and layout from beginning to end.

A poorly organized survey may cause respondents to skip questions or worse—completely opt out of answering the survey from the start. Here are some useful guidelines for designing a visually impressive online survey design.

1. Be Clear and Descriptive

Being as straightforward and descriptive as you can with labels, required questions and error messages will help boost positive user experience.

The questions and answers used in an online survey must be as non-threatening as possible. After all, we are asking for personal information of the user and they are under no obligation to provide it. The first step to avoiding frustration and confusion is to use plain and simple language that is clear and to-the-point. Color and typography variations can help push this even further. Boldening the question and even using a slightly different color helps set it apart from the answer text. 

The larger type in red clearly sets the questions and answers apart on the Brand New blog by Under Consideration voting system.

2. Proper Question Formatting

Use the appropriate fields for the questions being asked.

Well-designed surveys should also use different types of questions, whether it's true/false, multiple choice, rating scales or open ended. This way, participants won't get bored and quit the survey in the middle of filling it out. One thing to consider is whether to use Multiple Choice or Fill In The Blank. Selecting items from a list is naturally easier than filling in a blank. A blank sometimes raises more questions than it answers, especially if the labeling is not clear or there are too many empty fields. The participant may be confused by the format, the type of information being requested or how exactly to answer a question. In general, a choice is better than a blank, especially with information that could be confusing, such as scope, budget, project type, etc. This is why most survey forms use mostly multiple choice unless they're asking the participant to expand on a particular answer given. 

Google's Consumer Surveys offer a wide variety of survey question formats that are appropriate for any question type.

3. Straightforward Input Fields

Keep input fields simple, and do not include complicating fomatting that might be confusing to the participant.

If you do need to use input fields to gather extra personal information from the participant like a phone number, it's best to keep fields like these simple as not to be confusing. Because there are many different ways phone numbers can be represented (e.g. (800) 555-1234, 800-555-1234, 800.555-1234, 800 555 1234), users can often be confused when required to provide that information in a specific format. In this case, it's best to just include one single input field, and let the partipant fill it out how they feel comfortable. 

Complicated formatting for phone number inputs can be confusing to participants. It's better to use one single input with regular expressions to strip any extra characters.

4. Avoid Unintentional Skewing

Design rating scales so that they are clear and balanced to avoid bias from the participants.

A five-point rating scale is typically easily understood by survey participants and is usually recommended for most surveys. Using too few options could give less-cultivated information, while using too many could make the question hard to read and answer. Incorporating a middle category can help create a balanced vs. an unbalanced rating scale. If a rating scale is balanced, it means it is composed of an equal number of positive and negative labels anchored by opposite poles, with or without midpoints. With neutral midpoints, particpants can choose without being led in either direction. With an unbalanced rating scale, potential biases can occur. It's also better to lay out these questions horizontally with the ratings going from left to right, instead of up and down. If the ratings are laid out vertically, a viewer can naturally see the lower answers as negative, which could unintentionally influence the results. 

In the example above, you can see that there are two positive and two negative options to choose from while in example two, there are three positive and only two negative options. In the case of example two, the positive choices are more likely to be chosen.

5. Logical Question Order

Structure survey questions in a reasonable manner that will make sense to the participants.

It's best to order survey questions in a logical manner starting with broader-based questions at the top moving down to those narrower in scope. One important thing to keep in mind is to make sure the survey flows in a logical way. You should create transitions from one question to another that are as smooth as possible. Questions that jump around without a logical flow will be confusing and most likely will result in poor data. 

This sample restaurant survey from MachForm is the perfect example of how to order survey questions in an organized manner that makes sense to the participant.

6. Limit Answer Options

Streamline the amount of answer choices on multiple choice questions keeping them short and concise.

Keep the survey questions and answers short, simple and focused. This helps both the quality and quantity of the responses. With that said, answer options should be concise and to the point to provide less confusion. If a question has too many answers for the participant to choose from, they can get frustrated and quit. In those cases, it's best to break up the answers into separate but related questions. 

The multiple choice answers in this example from QuestionPro are concise and easy to understand by the participant.

7. Monitor Progress

Include a progress indicator with longer surveys to help the participant keep track of where they are in the survey process.

Surveys can range incredibly in length; some are a few quick questions taking minutes to answer, while others can be exceptionally long. Because of the varying lengths of surveys, it is best to provide some kind of indication of how long the survey might take or where the participant is at any point in the survey process. These progress indicators help participants keep track of what section they are currently on and which sections have already been completed. 

Design rating scales so that they are clear and balanced to avoid bias from the participants.This progress bar by Survey Monkey is labeled clearly to show the survey participant exactly where they are in the survey and how much is left to fill out.

SurveyGizmo uses percentage values to show how far into the survey the participant is and how much is left to fill out.

While this progress bar from Buffalo's doesn't have the sections labeled, the viewer still has a clear understanding of their progress with the numbers.

Another way to present a rating question is to use a slider that can give percentage values as seen in this rating system by FluidSurveys.

8. Maximize Response Quality

Keep the survey questions and answers short, simple and focused. This helps both the quality and quantity of the responses.

With that said, answer options should be concise and to the point to provide less confusion. If a question has too many answers for the participant to choose from, they can get frustrated and quit. In those cases, it's best to break up the answers into separate but related questions. For questions presented on a rating scale, it is better to lay out these questions horizontally with the ratings going from left to right, instead of up and down. If the ratings are laid out vertically, a viewer can naturally see the lower answers as negative, which could unintentionally influence the results. By following the above tips, you should find yourself with a well-designed online survey that will result in better, more complete information while keeping to the budget.

Chris Olberding Chris Olberding

Co-founder and Creative Partner at Station Four

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