Review: Designing Effective Web Surveys

A book that focuses on visual and interaction design

Designing Effective Web Surveys by Mick Couper, PhD is all about what survey methodologists call ‘the instrument’, the questionnaire itself that the user interacts with. You will not find anything here about writing questions, sampling, or how to analyse the data. Rather the opposite: the book is aimed at survey methodologists, and assumes that you’ll be thoroughly familiar with those topics.

What you will find is intensely practical, easy to read advice on the visual and interaction design of surveys, backed by extensive, high-quality research.

This is the go-to book if you want to explore issues like the merits of a scrolling page design (all the survey questions on one web page) compared to a paging design (questions spread across multiple pages). Or whether you should stick to the ordinary HTML radio buttons or opt for something fancier.

The research background – and the personal experience

Mick Couper is a professor at the University of Michigan, another distinguished member of the survey methodology community centered there – others include Robert Groves, author of my May book of the month and Roger Tourangeau, co-author of my February book of the month.

He does a lot of reseach in topics that are highly familiar to us in UX, such as whether or not it is safe to use an interactive slider that depends on Java, given that it won’t work for some users and that automatic detection of whether the user has Java might not work either.

But this is not just a research review. He also tell us what he thinks works in practice, in areas where the research might be equivocal or thin.

Buy it and enjoy it

I’m not going to try to summarise the book here, because its value is in the detail. It’s a thick book – over 400 pages – and it will set you back at least US$50. But it’s worth every penny. Indeed, if your team is more than a couple of people, you might do well to opt for the hardback edition at US$120, because it will be in constant use.