Online Technology for Research & Insight

Research Blog 12 April 2018

Top tips on using images in online surveys

Surveys need either to get hard facts and thoughts out of respondents or to probe into how they feel about their world and habits. Not so long ago, there used to be a bias towards "objective" research that probed the "head", but increasingly researchers are discovering that new technology allows them to get good feedback from the "heart" of respondents. The best surveys often have a mix of the two approaches.

Being able to include images in questionnaires gives survey designers a whole host of new opportunities to get subjective information from respondents. Images often evoke emotions – in fact, the imagery used in advertising is designed to do this. So it's imperative when using images to be highly selective in your approach.

Things to think about when increasing visual content

  1. An image to add background information: They say an image speaks a thousand words. But it also can evoke moods, aspirations, and ambitions, as well as colour feelings towards a brand or activity or behaviour. So the kinds of image you include to add "colour" to a survey, should be selected so that they do not evoke bias towards, or against, a subject. We suggest you use images that are not directly related to questions sparingly. There are some legitimate situations where images can be added – for example, illustrating a prize for a draw, or showing a diagram that explains some background information.
  2. Single or multiple-choice image questions: If you are using images as the answer options in a question, be careful to choose visuals that give no bias to one or the other. Images need to be the same width and depth, brand names given equal proportion, and they should be more or less equivalent in luminosity. In an open air scene, a dark grey background could evoke more negative reactions to an object than one photographed on a sunny day in bright light.

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  3. Image hotspot questions: This versatile question type gives you a lot of visual options in a survey without having to resort to expensive coding or using technologies like Flash (which will give you headaches on many devices). Hotspots in Demographix allow you to upload an image, and then create a layer over the image that divides it into sections. You save this as a grid and then use it to create a variety of "hotspot" question types (single and multiple choice, ranking/ordering choices, adding notes, etc).
    As above, if you have a series of objects/images that people are choosing between, you must ensure they look visually equivalent. Hotspots have been used very successfully to create questions with a set of five faces or emoji that express feelings (such as the range from "very satsified" to "very unsatisfied").
  4. Card sort questions: Our development team spent a lot of time working on this question type, to ensure compatibility with all devices from desktops through tablets and smartphones. You have objects (not just images, but words as well) that you can move across the screen into containers. A simple concept, but a world of possibilities to work with. Using images allows users to drag-and-drop visual options into sub-groups or even rank them in order within a container. Using card sorts can break the tedium of endless word-based questions, and can improve respondent accuracy by eliminating ambiguity often found in word formulations.
  5. Branding surveys with page headers: Perhaps the simplest thing to do to give your survey an authoritative look, and a consistent user experience as they work their way through, is to put the same distinctive imagery across the top of each page. A good-looking, well-sized (not too big!) logo can be centred or ranged within the header space of every page of a survey, using the page header option in the Appearance toolset. Or better still, get your art department to create a specific banner image to create the right "look and feel" for the survey.