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Mobile Survey Design

As researchers, we need to be sensitive to the additional challenges respondents face when completing surveys on mobile devices. Small screens, inflexible, device-specific, user input methods, and potentially slow data transfer speeds all combine to make the survey completion process more difficult than on a typical computer. Couple those hindrances with reduced attention spans and a lower frustration threshold and it's clear that we must be very proactive in both the questionnaire and user-interface design in order to accommodate mobile respondents and provide them an excellent survey experience.

Here are some guidelines for creating mobile-friendly surveys.

Keep the survey short.

It takes longer to navigate on mobile devices due limitations of the user interfaces and data transfer speeds.

  • Minimize the number of pages. Each time the page refreshes, the respondent has to wait. This wait time can range from a short to exceptionally long period of time depending on the network connection (with Wi-Fi at the fast end and regular cell data on a poor connection at the slow end). Take care not to put too many questions on a page though, as mobile devices also have less memory to work with, so a page with too many elements may cause the device to become slow or non-responsive.

Keep the question types simple.

  • Single dimension single-select, multi-select, or select questions are better than multi-dimension grid questions, which could be difficult to complete due to the small screen sizes of mobile devices. Limit scrolling to a single dimension: rows are preferable to columns in order to minimize the need to scroll on both horizontal and vertical axes.
  • Keep answer lists short to minimize scrolling. Consider putting long answer lists into select (drop-down) questions, but also be aware that these require more "clicks" to complete than single-select questions. Select questions only allow a single response, so for multi-select questions, use the multi-select question-type.
  • Keep question and answer text short. The small screen and space make it harder to read long options.
  • Limit usage of open-end questions which require typing.

Minimize all non-essential content.

It takes extra load time and visual space for every single element that appears on the screen. Repetitious elements, innocuous for a typical web-based survey, add an undue burden on respondents completing surveys on the mobile web, in addition to distracting from the purpose at hand: completing the survey.

  • Logos: Limit logos to the first (and/or last, if absolutely necessary) page of the survey.
  • Privacy policies, rules pages, etc.: If possible, also limit these to the first/last survey page.
  • Progress bar: The progress bar can be very helpful for indicating a respondent's position in the survey, however it also increases the load time and the need for vertical scrolling. Something to consider.

Keep the look of the survey simple. Minimize distraction.

  • Javascript support varies radically for mobile devices, so keep "interactivity" to a minimum. Flash is out for iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch devices.
  • Some mobile devices also have limited color palettes. High contrast color schemes will work best.

The following optimizations are automatically applied to the System survey themes:

  • Survey content area is narrower without horizontal scrolling
  • Colors are maintained from desktop theme
  • Font sizes are increased for better legibility
  • Background images are maintained
  • Select and text boxes are sized properly to prevent "zooming" effect
  • Grid cell heights adjusted for greater tappable area
  • Large grids attempt to scale down when possible
  • Row legend widths given lower priority than cell widths for accommodating wide grids
  • Text boxes scale to container size, overriding default size setting
  • Images scale down when appropriate, e.g., inside grids
  • Continue/Final buttons use the same styling as desktop theme
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