We often get asked by customers if the look of a survey actually has an effect on its usability or how likely users are to respond to it.
Of course, the sound of something being “beautiful” is almost universally appealing, so why not your next survey? But the natural question for many savvy folk then arises,
“Does a survey need to be beautiful and what does that even mean?”
Great question. Beauty is undeniably in the eye of the beholder, and surveys are not famously associated with glamorous high fashion design. After all, isn’t the purpose of a survey simply to function well and to get the job done? Of course, it is!
This blog discusses the fact that if you want your survey to function well and really get the job done (aka: inspire people to start and complete it willingly, honestly and in good spirits) then yes, your survey should be beautiful. And what does beauty mean when it comes to surveys?
We’ll tackle a bit of the science on why humans prefer beautiful things in general, and take a look at what is known as the well documented aesthetic usability effect. In practical terms, we’ll define what beauty really means for something as seemingly non-glamorous as your next survey.
For starters, we are neurologically wired to appreciate beautiful things. Beautiful things and aesthetic experiences inevitably change our perspectives and state of mind. A German study found that the color green can boost our creativity. There is evidence to support that an outdoor view makes employees more productive, and scientists have even discovered why we are attracted to shiny objects. Psychological Studies consistently show that we expect good looking people to be more competent, happier and more successful than the general population, and that we treat them with preference. Without delving into the depth (and occasional injustice) of the human brain’s preference for beautiful things, it’s pretty clear that we prefer stuff that looks good to stuff that doesn’t.
Science says beautiful interfaces feel easier to use
There is some well documented research backing up the fact that people are more likely to be positive and open minded towards a UI (user interface) that looks good, and that people actually find good-looking things easier to use.
The aesthetic-usability effect was first studied in 1995 in what was then called the “field of human computer interactions”. Hitachi Design Center Researchers, Masaaki Kurosu and Kaori Kashimura tested 26 variations of an ATM UI, and asked 252 study participants to rate each design on ease of use, as well as aesthetic appeal.
They found that when people rated visual appeal as higher, they were more likely to say that the ease of use was higher, even when the actual ease of use was the same.
The study concluded that users are highly influenced by the visual appeal of an interface, even when they are trying to rate the functionality. So when it comes to interface design, if something is good looking people are more likely to react positively to it and find it easier to use.
How can a survey be beautiful?
In the case of surveys, beauty is all about the factors that not only make the presentation look good, but that also make it easier to understand, follow and complete the survey. Strategic and appealing use of color and texture, practical usage of space and size and an intelligent hierarchy of fonts all make your survey look nicer and make it easier to understand.
These kinds of factors could be defined as basic mechanics of graphic design or user interface creation. But what they translate to for your survey is something that looks nice and that’s easy to interpret and use.
Structure and clarity is still king
With all this talk of beauty, it is important to remember that if the survey itself is poor, then the most beautiful survey in the world is useless. Maybe you have a great layout and clear use of fonts, but if your questions are confusing, the focus is messy and there was no research on the target group, then it is safe to say that your survey will always be a flop even if the aesthetics are stellar. So be sure that all of the best practices for survey creation are employed, and that beautiful clear design is the icing on top of the great cake you’ve made. To learn more about how to create a solid survey, we recommend that you download and read our free survey guide below.
Simplicity is beautiful: Five design tips for your next survey
Ok, so it’s clear that people like nice looking things, and that a good looking survey is essentially easier and more pleasant for people to use. Here are some practical tips that will help you get the most of the visual element on your survey tool.
These are all taken from well established UI design best practices, and they are things that you should be able to control with a good customizable survey tool.
As you design, think of it like this: Your visual design is simply a way to make your survey as intuitive and useful as possible.
1. Aesthetic, minimalist design
Minimalist designs are good because they allow the user to visually follow and process information. This reduces the cognitive load, making it less likely that a user will abandon their task. Sometimes when we think of beauty we might want to incorporate a variety of colors, textures and images to create something artistic or innovative and interesting looking. When it comes to creating a survey, you want to stick to a nice looking, but minimalistic and classic design. You don’t want to confuse the eye with too many distractions. The visual design should always aid the users in clearly following the logical order of the system.
2. Page layout with purpose
Remember that form follows function. Think about the size and placement of the items on the survey screen. As always, the eye should naturally follow the logical order of events and be drawn to the most important things. A simple and clear layout that takes this into account will increase readability. For example, you may not want to have a very intricate and distracting background picture with a very tiny survey window off to the left corner of the screen with an italic font. That’s an extreme example, but you understand how that could mislead the eye. Keep it clear, practical and simple. The eye should follow to the right place every time.
You can think of the size and style of your fonts as an organizational road map. Hierarchy refers to the fact that the eye (once again) follows a logical order of events. Keep your typography style and size clear and consistent. For example, all of the titles should be the same, the questions should be consistent, titles are larger than subtitles etc. You don’t want to invent a new font for every question. Keep it clear, simple and consistent. Make sure that the size of the font is easy for everyone to read, understanding that not everyone has eagle vision.
4. Usage of color and texture
The colors you choose should work well together. Make sure that your font colors are easy for people to read against any background color that you chose. Remember that if you have a picture with texture you probably can’t place writing right on top of it because it will be hard to read. If you want some inspiration on colors that work well together check out this color cheat sheet. We clearly recommend simplicity, but using simple texture can also add an appealing depth to visual layout on a the screen.
5. Consistency and standards
Users shouldn't have to wonder if different colors, fonts or actions mean the same thing. Keep your visual style with all of the above elements consistent throughout your survey and your visual style can essentially serve as a guide for successful navigation and completion, as opposed to something that is distracting or, worst case, repelling.
To sum it up
Yes, beauty is important. Not only do humans naturally prefer things that look nice, but good design also makes it easier for people to use your survey. Anything that makes users react more positively is a good thing, and when it comes to surveys, beauty is all about ease of use.
When you create a visual style for your survey keep the five above tips in mind. Try to keep things simple, aesthetically pleasing and easy to follow. Remember who your target audience is, and make sure that the visual style is something that they can relate to and that will help them get through your survey successfully and easily.
The foundation of a great survey is always going to be good planning, research, structure, language and clarity. Without those things, a great visual style isn't helping anyone. But you can see beauty as the cherry on top that will bring your survey to the next level, all the while adding a clarity and ease of use that creates happier and more willing respondents.
Download our free survey guide below. It has many best practice tips that will help you to create a clear and effective survey structure.