Surveys Stink: 7 Mistakes to Avoid a Crappy Survey Experience

For the past six months or so, I’ve been “volunteering” as a survey panelist through SurveyMonkey Contribute.  I’ve used SurveyMonkey quite a bit for my personal and UX related survey needs, so when my account manager explained to me how my audience panel would be sourced, I decided to give it a try myself.  Unlike paid survey sites, SurveyMonkey Contribute only compensates panelists by donating a small amount for each survey taken to the panelist’s chosen charity (cue the soft, squishy feelings).  They also offer a chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card, but after nearly 50 surveys–I can promise you–that is probably not gonna happen.  However, the real reason I contribute isn’t because of the feel-good feelings or possibility of scoring Amazon loot.  It’s because all of that time taking surveys will help me to avoid the poor design decisions that SO MANY people make when crafting a survey.  And as a user experience pro, being able to design and deploy a survey that will get valid and reliable results is a critical skill.

Lucky for you, all that time I’ve wasted spent taking surveys can help you be a better survey designer, too.  Below are the most common survey design mistakes I’ve seen in my many hours of survey responding… avoid them and you’re well on your way to crafting a survey that works.

1. Too many questions

I understand the temptation to get the most bang for your buck when surveying your audience–they’re there, you’ve got them, might as well ask everything you want to know, right?  Wrong.  As surprising as it may sound, survey respondents have lives, too.  A 50 question survey is unacceptable.  I guarantee you, folks are christmas-treeing the hell out of that thing.  Bye-bye, reliability.

2. Not including a progress indicator

SurveyMonkey actually advises against this, so perhaps that’s why I rarely see one.  But letting respondents know how far along they are in the survey process is just good UX.  And if you leave one out and violate any of these other mistakes, chances are good that your respondents are bouncing… that’s what I do!

3. Requiring answers on all questions

Sorry folks, but sometimes I just don’t understand what you are trying to ask me.  Or I don’t have an opinion.  Or it doesn’t apply to me at all.  So pretty please, give me an out.  If you can’t include an “other” or “N/A” option, you better not require me to answer it.

4. Too many open-ended questions

I totally understand and appreciate your desire for qualitative data in your results… having respondents put things into their own words is important and valuable in solving problems.  But using an open-ended question where a multiple choice or matrix will do?  You’re wasting my time, man.

5. Leading questions

Oh man, this is a biggie.  And while many survey respondents might not even catch on, leading questions can confuse and frustrate.  And leave you with invalid results.  Learn a little bit about preventing leading questions from the smart folks at SurveyMonkey.

6. Restrictive multiple choice answers

I don’t know how many times I’ve taken a survey with multiple choice questions that don’t offer the answer I want to provide.  Spend some time ensuring that your answers are comprehensive.  And then add an “other” option for good measure.

7. Illogical question order

This may be the result of inappropriate use of the “randomize” setting, but I’ve seen quite a few surveys where questions seem out-of-order or reference a topic that was fully explored two pages ago.  Randomizing questions can help ensure reliable results by protecting against survey fatigue, but you must use with care.  I’s not helpful to force respondents to jump from one topic to another and back again.  Group your questions by topic and randomize within if necessary.


Context is King

A little over two months ago, my husband, my dog, and I arrived in Portland, Oregon. A week later, I was sitting at my desk at Empirical UX, thinking about what to write for Empirical’s Ask the Expert column “advertorial”. Since I was new on the job, I didn’t have much to go on from a case study perspective.  So I thought of what kind of advice would give businesses the most bang for their buck UX-wise.  In my opinion, you can’t do much better than designing for context.

In true self-deprecating fashion, I have to laugh at myself for the “context is king” line.  It’s so cliche.  But cliches are cliche for a reason, right?  After all, context is the circumstances that define our experience.  And if you’re not paying a lot of attention to that, well… you clearly do need to ask the expert.

Perhaps the most cumbersome task in designing for context is the research required to know exactly how, when, and why your users are interacting with your product. Some of this may be identifiable by analytics, but to truly understand context, you’ll need to invest in some quality user research.

From there, you’d be amazed at just how much machines can do. They can leverage your location to tell you what’s nearest to you, they can serve up different content depending on the time of day, and the multitude of screen sizes… HANDLED, son. All you need to do is plan for it.

And that’s where I come in.

Saying Goodbye


Today begins my last full week as an Experience Architect at Organic and the only word I can think of to describe how I feel is bittersweet.

As blessed as I have been with great jobs in my life, this has been the best one yet.  In fact, let me count the ways:

  1. Sandy Cumming was my boss, and to say she was a great mentor is the understatement of the year.  She coached me when I needed it, and left me to figure it out the rest of the time, which is my management sweet spot.
  2. I met my UX BFF’s in Alice Coleman, Rebecca Carter, Maureen Honore, and Casey Riggleman.  Not seeing their faces everyday is going to be the hardest part of leaving Organic.
  3. The Organic Creative team is the most talented bunch of folks I’ve ever met–and not just in regards to the work we do.  They are illustrators and filmmakers, singers and font makers, musicians and actors… and damn good at it, too.
  4. I was able to progressively increase my responsibility over the 15 months I’ve been here… from IA to usability testing, content strategy to interaction design.  Every project grew my understanding of the UX practice and how best to deliver digital experiences that people love to use.

The only saving grace is that this goodbye gives way to a new hello.  I’ll be joining the team at Empirical User Experience Design & Research in Portland, Oregon as an Interaction Designer in September.  Perhaps by then my tears will have dried and I’ll be ready to make some new friends.



UX Thursday

ux thursday detroit

I have a confession to make.  Up until last week, I had never attended a conference on user experience.  Or technology for that matter!  In my former life as an educator, I’ve attended my fair share of higher education conferences.  Hell, I’ve even been a speaker at a few!  But in terms of content, higher ed and tech conferences could not be more different (well, except for this one… or this one).

Lucky for me, Organic sprang for a ticket to UX Thursday in Detroit and I finally got to spend all day in a conference center geeking out on all things UX.  As a fairly new endeavor, the illustrious Jared Spool and his team at User Interface Engineering partnered with Vitamin T to bring together the local UX community and provide a platform for local leaders to share their work and point of view.

One of the most notable things about UX Thursday is that it offered a diverse collection of talks, from design to research to content strategy.  For a one day conference, they really did a great job of showcasing the multi-disciplinary efforts that UX encompasses.  A few highlights:

Not only did I get to see a bunch of excellent talks, I got to reconnect with some UMSI buddies and meet a few new friends.  It really was a great day!  If you’re interested in a more comprehensive and social-fueled look at UX Thursday, check out Deborah Edward-Onoro’s Storify about the event.  It kinda rocks.  And I’m not just saying that because I’m in it.

Introducing Detroit Women of Design & UX

Detroit Women of Design & UX

I’m a little late on making this announcement considering I established the group in March of this year, but play along, will ya? Introducing Detroit Women of Design and UX, a local meetup group for women working (or aspiring to) in the design and user experience field in the metro Detroit area!

Several months ago I caught wind of a similar effort in Chicago by way of Gemma Petrie.  And since Chicago is quite the commute from Detroit, I decided to copy their efforts and start a similar group here in Detroit.  Luckily, the masterminds behind that group didn’t mind a bit!

I have always been an active feminist and with the fervor around women in technology  reaching a feverish pitch, it seemed like the time was right to kick off a venture like this one.  Detroit Women of Design and UX aims to address the inequities facing women in our field.  For example:  fewer women in leadership roles, nearly all-male conference panels, and women being grossly underpaid compared to their male counterparts.

If you’re interested in fighting the good fight with us (male, female, or anywhere in-between), please consider joining our group.  Our first (non-happy hour) meetup is scheduled for June 19th at 6p, where we will be kicking off our Trial Run Talks series with Brittany Hunter and her brand-new talk, UX in the Real World.

If you can’t make this event, near fear–we’ll be back in July with a happy hour event where you can mix and mingle with other women UXers in Detroit.

UXPA DC | Spreading the Word

uxpa logo

For my role on the marketing committee for the 2013 UXPA Conference, I’ve been tasked with a little bit of content marketing for the event.  If you’re planing to attend the conference in DC in July, check out my latest blog post about one of the keynote speakers: UXPA DC Keynote Speaker: Navi Radjou Talks Collaboration for Innovation.


Information Architecture Implications from Honest Seduction

When I was a student at UMSI, I took an Information Architecture class in which I had to deliver a book report on a recommended text.  I was assigned Honest Seduction: Using Post-Click Marketing to Turn Landing Pages into Game Changers.  While it wasn’t as sexy as the title implied, I learned a lot about digital marketing by reading and presenting on the book, and I continue to utilize what I learned in my work at Organic.
Last month, a few colleagues in the UX department and I decided to start a UX Book Club to keep up on trends in the field and expand our collective knowledge. Since I already had this presentation prepared, I decided to re-cap it for our inaugural meeting.
And now, I shall share it with you, internet.  Unfortunately, Slideshare doesn’t include the notes from the native file, which is where most of the “meat” of this presentation is.  But if you’d like a cliff-notes version anyway, flipping through the slides oughta do ya just fine.

Convincing Clients

Yesterday I led my first client meeting at Organic.  While I’ve been producing client-facing deliverables such as annotated wireframes, user flows, and content matrixes since I began my role in May, this was the first project where I was lead UX and thus, responsible for presenting wireframes to the client.

Presenting to clients in general is not new to me.  I spent a great deal of my previous career meeting with, presenting to, and building relationships with third parties.  But defending my design decisions?  That’s something that I am still learning to do.

But as they say, preparation is the mother of success.  What?  They don’t say that?  Well, they should.  Because being prepared for the questions the client might ask about why I chose a text link versus tabs or how the user will know that the image is swipe-able on mobile had me ready to clarify exactly why those were the right decisions to make for the design.

More importantly however–being ready to convince the client of my design choices helped me to defend the design to MYSELF, who is often the harshest critic.

On Creativity

Perhaps the most intimidating thing about beginning my career at Organic was that it is a creative firm. Although I’ve always surrounded myself with professional creatives and various other artsy type folks, I never really considered myself one. I didn’t paint, I didn’t draw, I didn’t design really.

I was an appreciator.  I had a good eye.  I could tell you want worked and what didn’t.  But call myself a creative?  Nahhh.  Poseur I am not!

But what I’ve found in the few short months I’ve been here is that creativity and the role of a professional creative is really just about solving problems.  And solving problems are my THING.  So, me a creative?  Yep, problem solved!

Too bad my creative anxiety didn’t stop there.  Even after I’ve accepted my newfound role as a creative, I still manage to think I’m doing it wrong.  Well, along comes Andrew Zuckerman to articulate it for me.

Creativity isn’t just about knowing how to solve problems, it’s about acknowledging that a problem exists and giving yourself the freedom to discover the solution.