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Driving Innovation with Empathy

[Big Ideas Series] Human empathy in survey design is key to finding valuable insights and creating a positive respondent experience.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. Lev Mazin will be speaking at IIeX North America (June 11-13 in Atlanta). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX North America. Click here to learn more.

I came into the market research industry in 2009 not as a researcher. My path into this world was motivated more by a need I saw for new technology than an academic background in research. Since then, I have dedicated my professional life to better understanding the unique needs of our rapidly evolving industry. I have blended my UI/UX and creative background into the research world with interesting results, which you can experience at today.

I firmly believe that technology and automation are making us smarter, faster and better, but there are limits to what technology alone can do. Researchers today are the most empowered they have ever been. Tools give them the capacity to build, field and analyze with a few clicks of a button. All this empowerment is putting corporate researchers in the driver’s seat but that power requires refinement of skills that may have been outsourced or strategically developed before technology disrupted our industry.

With the rapid adoption of DIY and automation tools, one area that has grown in importance is truly great survey design. What do I mean by “great” survey design? Surveys must not only produce the insights needed, but they must also preserve the respondent experience. These two goals are often in conflict with one another and both are extremely challenging to balance. The key to the latter is awareness of the survey-taking experience you’re creating throughout the process and simple human empathy.

From the respondents’ perspective, a survey is just another type of content they interact with. It competes for their attention with news headlines, video clips on Facebook, tweets and cute cats on Instagram. Our attention span and style of interaction with online and mobile content is very different than it was a decade ago, and it’s drastically different from your mindset in the office writing your survey.

Despite being considered a fundamental skill, survey design is still one of the biggest contributors to bad respondent experience when done poorly. Each day, my team helps researchers navigate this fundamental step in the research process via smart UX and support, but technology can’t solve for everything. We also work to reframe survey design strategy not just in terms of which question types or research methodology to use, but the overall approach. Technology has made research much faster and less expensive, yet we still default to an “everything” approach to survey design. We must change the way we think about design in this new environment to truly benefit from it.

In my own education on survey design best practices, I have looked to “The Complete Guide to Writing Questionnaires: How to Get Better Information for Better Decisions” by David F. Harris as an invaluable resource. In just a little over 200 pages, it covers the entire questionnaire design process from initial ideation to execution. It teaches researchers how to organize their thoughts to accomplish goals without bias or creating confusion for the respondent.

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