Surveys are a very particular challenge to face as UX designers, some of the best lessons to learn lie in designing how to ask things to people.
In design for mobile applications possibilities are endless and at the same time, things are expected to be and look in very established ways. Most digital interactions are analogies of physical interfaces that preceded them: buttons, switches, knobs, cards, etc. In most cases, the fundamental medium for people to interact with information was paper; it still plays a key role in how our society works, from business to education and sports. Paper still dictates our life, even where there has been a transition to digital, because the model for these digital interactions is paper. Surveys are no different, paper is still widely used and even web surveys are basically digital versions of the paper surveys of always.
The question is: how to break away from the tyranny of paper? Can a survey be done different? Can mobile technology allow it?
Paper is not bad, it is simply a medium with strengths and limitations. Native mobile technology (aka smartphones) is just another medium, with different strengths and limitations. This is the experience we had at DVmobile to design a new mobile app survey. The challenge was to reimagine the survey as if paper had never existed, free of its bias and legacy.
Turns out… you can’t, because people are used to paper surveys. Icons for surveys are paper sheets and pencils or checkmarks that you draw with a pencil inside a checkbox. If we are true to empathetic design, attempting to reinvent the survey is a mistake. Also, there are decades of previous records that were surveyed using paper — to maintain the validity of the study, the new results need to be comparable to previous records, which means you cannot stray far from the paper survey. “Why the hell have you made me read this far then?”, you may ask. Well, not all hope is lost, enthusiastic designer! In the words of dying Yoda: “There…. is ….. another… . . .” — a medium even more fundamental than paper for surveying: a conversation.
Think about it: a paper survey (and nearly any paper form) is a bad attempt of what a human conversation or interview could be. Instead of questions and answers flowing naturally, it is a cold, machine-like set of words, numbers, instructions, bullets, checkboxes, lines and arrows. Like sending a not-very-eloquent robot to ask the questions you could not ask yourself in person. What if that robot suddenly got smarter? Apps have many ways to obtain information such as GPS tracking, accelerometer, audio recordings, tactile gestures, sounds and video, etc. Paper only has writing and drawing checkmarks.
By analyzing the original paper survey questions, we tried to go back to that primordial conversation, as trying to decipher what was really wanted to be known before it was up to the dumb robot to ask it. Surprisingly (not), many of the questions didn’t even have to be asked in the first place, as the smarter robot can just follow people around and answer without interfering. Only very few pieces of information required input from users, and those were addressed as filling a journal or log.
A trial will launch very soon and we’ll be able test our findings and designs, there will be many things to improve, but we are happy to be contributing with another small step towards Digital Transformation.
UI/UX Designer at DVmobile, Men-at-Work fan, and 3D printing guru.