Five Ways to Mobile-Ready Your Surveys
The use of mobile devices has reached the critical point where designing mobile-friendly surveys is no longer optional. Whether we want it or not, many respondents are trying to complete our surveys on such devices, and if we fail to optimize our designs with that in mind, we will probably miss a big chunk of our respondent base.
Fortunately, it is not hard to do. First, it is important to program on a platform that adapts the layout for the device being used. Second, it is important to re-think the design of question-and-answer formats. Traditional formats have served us well for many years, but many of those formats require large screen viewing. On smaller screens, those formats may be disastrous.
Here are five newly emerging best practices for survey design to ensure high quality data collection even if respondents happen to be answering on mobile devices:
1. Put multiple questions onto a single page. Mobile devices are slower, which makes it tedious to submit answers to questions one screen at a time. The effort it takes to scroll down through multiple questions is minimal (and expected) and vastly outweighs the time it takes to refresh screen content.
2. Use newer response-option formats. Radio buttons and check boxes are usually too small for mobile devices, and they are usually too small even for skinny fingers. So opt for large tiles or answer boxes, which also work well and look great on desktops.
3. Split grid questions into single questions. Grids rarely fit onto smaller screens, and doing away with grids is better survey practice anyway! Mobile surveys may be just the kick in the pants our industry needs.
4. Avoid horizontal response scales. Optimizing for mobile requires content always to fit on a narrow screen. To avoid having respondents scroll left and right, lay out all response scales vertically so that the motion required is consistent with how mobile users interact with their devices.
5. Shorten response lists. Respondents should not be asked to select from a list of options if they can’t see the whole list at once. On a small screen, that means narrowing down to ten or twelve options, at most. If the survey must have more, think of ways to split it into multiple questions instead.
There are other design issues for which researchers do not yet have clear sets of best practices. Survey length is one, with some arguing there is little evidence that longer surveys cannot be fielded on mobile devices. Another has to do with open-ends. Some researchers avoid asking mobile users to type; others point out the ease with which many mobile users do so (think e-mail and texting).
Mobile survey technologies in 2013 are in the same place that online surveys were in 2003 and cell-phone surveys were in 2008. Best practices are still emerging and in flux as our technologies improve. But if you’re not thinking now about mobile when designing research, building questionnaires, and fielding surveys, then the quality of your research will surely suffer.