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3 Ways to Improve the (Visual) Design of Your Survey

3 Ways to Improve the (Visual) Design of Your Survey

We spend a great deal of time at SurveyMonkey focusing on survey design, as in crafting questions and answers well, implementing survey logic so that we can get the most relevant data, and ensuring that responses are not biased.

However, there is another critical component to good survey design—how you actually make the survey look and feel for your respondents. The better the visual design of your survey, the easier it is for your respondents to complete your survey (and the more data you have to make decisions—and the happier everyone is!).

This past week, we had a small debate in the office on the design of a survey that we were developing for our customers. Our great User Experience team has built a custom theme for us to use that follows the color palette of our site. The goal of this theme is to match our site experience as closely as possible and to make it really easy for our customers to complete our surveys:

But…for the particular survey we were working on, a few of us felt it should be a little brighter, with some more “pop” (yes, a word that drives all good designers crazy). So we started to make a few adjustments to the theme—one color change here, a brighter highlight there, and all of sudden, while it definitely had some pop to it (thank you, Lemon Yellow!), it lost some of it’s original user-friendliness.

So…we went back to our Principal User Experience designer, Phill (not to be confused with our other Phil), and asked for some help and advice.

Lucky for us, Phill also happens to be working on designing new themes for our customers to use, so he not only fixed our custom theme so it was bright and usable, he shared these 3 best practices for great survey design:

Phill: Design is often a balancing act between competing goals, but your primary goal should be to get meaningful insights from your survey. You might have a hundred questions that you want to ask your customers, but you also want people to actually complete your survey and give each question a considered response. Aside from trimming down your question set to the most critical questions, you also need to think about how to compete for your audience’s attention amid flooded in-boxes and busy schedules. While you may be tempted to make your survey colorful or your typeface large and bold to stand out, you’ll be better off in the end if you consider the following best practices:

1) Context is Critical
Is your survey requesting feedback about professional services? Or is it asking people private or sensitive information? Goofy colors will seem out of place and may raise issues of trust—consider using neutral colors (think of these brands’ color palettes: Kaiser Permanente, IBM, Goldman Sachs).

Is representing your corporate brand important? Include your company logo in the survey title and use your brand color palette. Now if you’re sending a fun opinion poll to your friends about an upcoming party, then a plain survey might prompt them to make other plans, so feel free to let loose.

2) Make Your Content Easy to Read
Good design is about allowing the content to take the front seat. Most people skim when reading online so it’s important to make your text as easy as possible to read. To maximize legibility of your questions, consider increasing the text size of your questions and answer options. Sizes 3 & 4 in our theme editor work well for easy reading.

Typically, san-serif fonts like Arial, Helvetica, and Verdana work best for the web based surveys. If your survey contains long passages of text, consider using a serif font such as Georgia or Garamond, which are both appealing and easy to read. And while you may be tempted to choose a colorful background color for your survey, remember that it will reduce the color contrast and visually compete with the text, making reading a challenge. Try to make sure the color of your text contrasts with the page background—black or dark gray text on white background might look a touch plain, but it offers the highest color contrast.

3) Give Sign Posts and Mile Markers
We’ve seen that keeping your total survey length as short as possible is a good way to design a survey that increases response rates. However, in cases where you are designing a longer survey, it’s good to manage your respondents’ expectations.

  • Tell them up front about how long the survey should take.
  • Break up your survey into pages that don’t require a lot of scrolling so it doesn’t feel overwhelming.
  • Use a progress bar so respondents can see how they are doing (people like to see progress!).

Next time your colleague or manager asks you to make the survey “pop” a little more, refer them to this blog post…with a smile of course.

Have questions about how to design a visually appealing survey?  Let us know, we’re here to help.

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11 thoughts on “3 Ways to Improve the (Visual) Design of Your Survey

  1. I agree that the design /layout is important both in terms of the ease of answering and the image it presents of the organisation which is asking. I also think that the explanatory blurb is important, and it should have a relatively low reading age to match the difficulty of reading on a screen in a hurry.
    Having said all that, I then this the page width should be kept quite low with large margins either side so the eye can easily travel down the page, so far, though, I have failed to find a way to adjust the margins of the introductory page text. Any ideas about how to do this would be welcomed.

    1. Anne R says:

      Andy–thanks for sharing your use of an explanatory blurb in your surveys and how you’ve written them. That’s a great tip. To answer your question on adjusting margins…there currently isn’t a way to change the margins for the page text. I’ll send that idea along to our product and development team. However, you can use our “Descriptive Text” question type to add introductory text to a page and you are able to change the width of that question type. You can adjust the percentage or set the pixel width. Would love to see if that works for you as an alternative for now.

  2. Gillian King says:

    To constrain the width of the introductory page, I use html code to set up a table. A little html goes a l-o-n-g way!

    Perhaps SM could post some examples that people could copy and paste? Or work towards a html editor interface?

    1. Anne R says:

      Hi Gillian–thanks for sharing how you use HTML and for the great suggestion on posting examples. That’s a great idea for a future blog post, so we’ll add that to our list as well as share your suggestion of an HTML editor interface with our product team.

  3. Beverly says:

    This was good information. You gave suggested answers that were clear and easy to follow. Thank you

    1. Anne R says:

      Beverly–we are so glad you found this to be helpful!

  4. Visual Design for Your Survey is my next favorite after your Skip Logic Made Easier for “most useful survey methodology posts”. Oh, and the one about satisficing, that was good too!

    I would certainly echo Gillian’s comment about being interested in seeing some use of HTML for enhancing survey first pages here in one of your future posts.
    Thank you!

  5. Anne Peyton says:

    I have questions with multi-parts and only 4 choices, such as ‘very important, important, not so important, not important at all’ and those 4 choices take up most of the available space on the page, forcing the multi-part questions into a narrow space on the left side of the page – hard to read.


    1. Kayte K says:

      Hi Anne,

      It sounds like you might be trying to set up a matrix question. We recommend that instead you try using individual multiple choice/one answer questions. Check out this page from our Help Center for additional tips on minimizing matrix type questions:

      Hope this helps and good luck with your survey!


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