Submission to IxD10: Hone Your Surveys!

Title: Hone Your Surveys!


Free your surveys from the biggest common flaws.

Most of us find ourselves inclined to conduct a survey at least once in a while. Although surveys cannot replace observation, interviews, or empirical usability testing, they can be a cost-effective adjunct to more direct user research if designed and used appropriately. Unfortunately, too many surveys have fundamental design flaws that practically guarantee that they will produce invalid or unreliable results.

This session will begin with a brief introduction to the basic principles of survey design, focusing on the four kinds of variables, the types of scales and questions, and the main sources of bias. We’ll spend the rest of the time in large- and small-group exercises and Q&A;, to give you practice at designing questions and at evaluating questions designed by others. Feel free to bring survey questions from your own experience. either ones you’ve designed yourself or ones you’ve encountered somewhere.

Note: A 40-minute session cannot possibly cover survey design in any real depth; that would take hours if not days. But it can provide the basics and alert you to the most common problems so you can keep your surveys free of them.


Elizabeth Buie is principal consultant at Luminanze Consulting, LLC. With more than 30 years’ experience in UX, she has done research, analysis, specification, design, development, and evaluation for web sites, web apps, desktop and mainframe apps, and complex systems such as spacecraft control centers.

Elizabeth has master’s degrees in mathematics and in human development — a nice mashup for the psychometrics courses required for the latter and a perfect combination for designing surveys. She has designed and analyzed surveys for clients such as the American Library Association, the US Department of Education, and the American Chemical Society.

Elizabeth co-chairs the CHI 2010 User Experience Community and serves on the editorial board of the UPA’s Journal of Usability Studies.

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