The User Experience of User Experience Surveys

I’m a believer in “ask and you shall receive”. In this case, we’re asking for information. As UX designers, our job is to empathize with the users of our products. We have processes in place that help us understand the user and their needs. We create user profiles. We learn about who, how and why people are using the products we design. We ask them questions. One of the most practical methods for gathering the information is by creating a user survey. The problem with them is that (ironically) the user experience is usually terrible. The solution? We need to remember to empathize during this step, too.

At some point in our lives, we’ve almost all been solicited to complete a survey. Sometimes I do them, often I don’t. Pro Tip: Make it easy. I have facilitated a lot of user surveys, and through research, trial and error and iteration, have found the things that work. Before we dive into that, let’s quickly look at four (of many) things that don’t work.

  • Making the survey too long.
  • Asking questions in long-form or paragraphs.
  • Giving too many open-ended response fields.
  • Requesting a survey from random people (I seriously get pop-up survey requests on websites I’m visiting for the first time. Really?).

No brainers, right? Now here are my suggestions.

1. Engage with users who actually buy your product.

Resist sending out a survey en mass to your entire email list. Ideally, select a sample of customers who have recently purchased, or have made many purchases throughout their lifetime. In a study done by SurveyMonkey, 31% of respondents said they gave an incorrect answer on a survey because the question being asked didn’t apply to them , so narrowing down your sample is a key step in mitigating this effect. I like to imagine myself as the respondent. Again: empathize. If I haven’t purchased Nike shoes in three or four years, I’m probably not a candidate qualified to answer questions about their website or products at this point. However, if Adidas contacted me for a survey, as a buyer who has been consistently buying Adidas products for three or four years, the feedback I’m able to provide would be genuine.

2. Keep it short (important).

Keep your survey short and give multiple choice options rather than open-ended response forms. 87% of respondents to prefer multiple choice to open-ended questions2. Help your customer help you. Try to keep all questions to one sentence, and avoid ambiguous filler questions like “how likely are you to recommend our product to a friend?”. I recently completed a emailed survey that Adobe put out. It asked how likely I am to recommend Illustrator to a friend. The question doesn’t benefit Adobe and adds additional length to the survey. I mean, how likely is my friend to use Adobe Illustrator? Well, if he’s a designer, he already uses it. If he’s not a designer, he’s very unlikely to ever need it. So would I recommend Illustrator to a friend – “Sure, I guess?” would have been the appropriate answer. I’m pretty sure I selected “10” on the scale and carried on with my life.

3. Use a progress indicator.

Make it clear how many more questions the user needs to answer. While 67% of respondents say they’re willing to take feedback surveys, 45% of them are not willing to spend more than five (at the most) minutes taking a survey 3. If you’ve kept the survey short, your progress indicator should serve as motivation to the user. They’ll know it’s a quick survey and are more likely to answer your questions in full, and less likely to rush through.

4. Use simple language.

Phrase questions in a way that is easy to digest. Empathize. Use language the audience you’re surveying will understand. 40% of respondents to a study done by SurveyMonkey admitted to answering questions incorrectly because the question asked was too confusing 4.


Don’t ask: “How often are you particularly averse to risky situations?”

Ask: “How often do you take risks?”

5. Test, iterate, test, iterate.

This is what we’re good at. Create three surveys. See which one customers respond best too. Is it your short, sweet survey with only five questions, or is your customer base savvy enough to complete a multi-page survey on API implementation for your product? Break it down. Segment your list. Send out the survey to a small test sample, find what works best and iterate on that one. In order to take full advantage of your email list, get it bulletproof before hitting the send button.

Questions or comments? Did I make a mistake or miss a key point? I’m new at the whole blogging thing, so let’s talk about it. 

Thanks for Reading!
© 2015-2017, Kesey Badgett.