An introduction to design surveying

When in doubt, just ask!


A design survey is a straightforward test which helps you get feedback about specific parts of a design — be it a website, app design, book cover, or logo concept. 

The participant is simply shown an image and asked questions about it. Importantly, the image doesn’t go away like in a five second test. It’s visible until participants finish answering the questions. 

This lets participants really get to grips with a design, without time pressure. It’s useful for a range of applications where recall or immediate impact of the image isn't the focus of your testing. 

You can add as many questions and designs as you like, which means that creating a test session to explore multiple variations or concepts in a linear, sequential fashion is easy to set up, run and analyze.   

Use design surveys to test messaging or design in an open-book way. This technique is useful for logo testing, product page comprehension studies, content testing — or anything where some thought and consideration of the design from participants would be worthwhile. 

Important considerations

There are a lot of cases where a test that yields behavioral data like a click test or navigation test would be more appropriate to use than a design question, e.g. when testing the findability of icons, or when optimizing tasks in an interface which are time-sensitive.

Participants don’t consciously give you bad information if you use the wrong test format — but when you use the right tool for the job, you’ll get the most accurate data. 

Also, remember that test sections follow each other in a linear fashion as a participant moves through your test. 

If you slot in a regular question section after a design question section, the image will disappear, and you can then test what a participant remembers about it. This allows a participant to reach a comfortable familiarity with an image before answering questions about it. 

Common use cases

There are a few specific instances where a design survey is a perfect test to get some very targeted data. Here are a few sample questions that you might find useful:

  • What service or product do you think this website is promoting?
  • What does this logo say about the company that uses it? 
  • Why or why not does this book cover make you want to pick up the book?
  • What are you expecting to happen after you [perform some action] on this page?
  • What are some words that come to mind when you see this t-shirt design?

In particular, using the design survey test with web and app designs to ask participants about their expectations around buttons, menus, and other interactive features can be very insightful. This is because participants have time to digest your design and form assumptions around the functionality of it, which mirrors their real behavior. 

You can also use a highlight or call-out in the design itself to draw attention to a specific element, and center your questions around it. This is a hybrid of in-context and out of context testing, which is useful for giving participants a view of the big picture, as well as probing them about a particular part of the design. 

It’s this flexibility that makes the design survey a useful addition to your testing toolkit.