Usability Testing for Survey Research: How to and Best Practices

Instructors: Emily Geisen, RTI and Jennifer Romano Bergstrom, Instagram

Time: 13.00-16.00 July 17th 2017

Usability testing in survey research allows in-depth evaluation of how respondents and interviewers interact with self-administered questionnaires, particularly web and mobile surveys. A respondent may understand the survey question and response options, but may be unable to select their answer accurately on the small screen of a smartphone. Although there is a growing body of literature on best practices for web surveys and mobile devices, not all design guidelines work equally well for all surveys and all survey populations. In addition, it is clear that the capabilities of web surveys are constantly emerging. Examples are the use of images, videos, maps and GPS, interactive features, and mobile devices. As a result, it is critical for researchers to have the necessary tools to evaluate, test, and modify web surveys in an iterative method as part of the survey pretesting process. Like other pretesting methods, the primary goal of usability testing surveys is to improve data quality and reduce respondent burden. 

The course will start with a brief description of usability testing – what it is and why it is needed in survey research. We will then discuss how to apply usability testing to survey research by building off the survey literature and best practices. We will then describe the basic methods for conducting usability testing, such as developing usability testing scenarios and tasks used to evaluate research questions, including a demonstration. We will then expand on these approaches and provide real-life examples for applying these methods, specifically to surveys. Finally, we discuss how to incorporate usability testing, particularly iterative design and testing, into the survey pretesting process in a cost-effective and timely manner. The course will also discuss pros and cons of certain software choices for usability testing.

About the instructors:

Emily Geisen and Jennifer Romano Bergstrom recently co-authored the book, Usability Testing for Survey Research (Elsevier, 2017).

Emily Geisen is the manager of RTI’s cognitive/usability laboratory and specializes in designing and evaluating survey instruments to improve data quality and reduce respondent burden. She also has considerable experience in conducting and pretesting surveys with physicians and other health care providers. In her tenure at RTI, she had conducted hundreds of usability tests on a variety of projects, including the 2020 Census questionnaires as well as surveys with physicians on the precision medicine and prescription drug promotional materials. She is the 2016-18 American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) Membership and Chapter Relations Communications subchair. Ms. Geisen also teaches a graduate course on Questionnaire Design at the University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill. She also teaches additional short courses on qualitative methods including focus groups and cognitive testing. Ms. Geisen received her BA in Psychology and Statistics at Mount Holyoke College, and received her MS in Survey Methodology from the University of Michigan’s Program in Survey Methodology where she was an Angus Campbell fellow.

Jennifer Romano Bergstrom has over a decade of experience planning, conducting, and managing user-centered research projects. At Instagram, she leads user experience (UX) research in emerging markets. She leads, conducts, and manages UX studies across multiple teams simultaneously and collaborates across disciplines to understand the user experience. Jen specializes in experimental design, implicit learning, usability testing, and eye tracking. Jen coauthored Eye Tracking in User Experience Design (Elsevier, 2014) and has  published peerreviewed articles in Applied Cognitive Psychology, Memory, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Journal of Health Communication, Computers in Human Behavior, Survey Practice, International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, Social Science Computer Review, Universal Access in the Information Society, and Journal of Usability Studies. Prior to Instagram, Jen led UX research at Facebook for Privacy, Safety Check, Facebook Lite, and Videos. Jen is the President of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA). Jen received her BA in Psychology from Central Connecticut State University, and her MA and PhD in Applied/Experimental Psychology from The Catholic University of America.