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6 tips to create successful surveys using the psychology of colours

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Why are colours so important to us?

We are confronted with colours from the day we are born on for the rest of our lives. In this context, colours play a strong emotional role in our daily routines as they're connected to learnings and memories which facilitate awareness and recognition in all aspects of life.

Essentially, the way we were brought up and the culture within which we matured have a strong impact on how we perceive different colours and which meaning they carry. Over the years, confrontation with colours tends to lead to contextual experiences and personal preferences which explains why most people rank and thus have a favourite colour.

Colours are highly attractive to us as they stimulate and are processed in the visual cortex’s colour centre of our brains. Furthermore, they are powerful influencers as they can set a certain mood, induce physiological processes or initiate active behaviours. In fact, there is a widespread consensus among researchers that colours are essential to fields such as marketing, market research, branding etc.

So how does this colour psychology apply to survey design and survey-taking?

Colours in surveys: beneficial or detrimental?

Colours can be deployed in surveys in different ways and may evoke different emotional reactions.

  • Font colouring: manually adding colour to the font of your question texts or answer options.

  • Theme colouring: customising the overall survey theme including e.g. overall background colour, font colour, question background colour.

  • Image colouring: questions and answer options may both contain images and dispense with text altogether if desired.

These colouring options can be based on various motivations or goals. Coloured company logos for instance tend to aim at ensuring brand awareness and recognition. Organisational colours may dominate survey themes to elicit comfort and trust in respondents. Images within question texts or answer options may be used to visually simplify the effort for respondents when testing brand, packaging or advertisement alternatives.

This is just a small fraction of possible application areas; however, determining the extent of benefits or detriments is strongly case-dependent. Factors that determine whether colours in surveys lead to higher or lower response rates and better or worse response quality are characteristics like target audience culture, residence, age, gender, but also respective survey format, e.g. market research survey or survey quiz, and survey goal such as strict data retrieval or entertainment purpose.

Therefore, the question remains whether to use colours in surveys and possibly how to.

6 tips for using colours in surveys

As there is a lack of research dedicated to colour usage within survey design and its implications towards response rates and data quality, we can’t profess the right way to deal with colours when creating a survey as there is no scientific evidence to back it.

Nevertheless, we have gathered 6 valuable tips that can give a good orientation for the usage of colours in surveys to ensure a more strategic approach.

  • Conduct A/B test: if you are not certain whether to integrate specific colouring into your survey or not, there is always the possibility of A/B testing. Set up the same survey in different variations, i.e. for example split test a survey into one with colour options and another with a more neutral look and feel. Test these on two smaller sub-groups of your sample group to get an idea which version performs better.

  • Ensure readability: it is essential that any text in your survey is easily readable. The lighter the font colour the harder it becomes to read it. If you decide to use font colours, rather select darker colours as they facilitate legibility.

  • Minimalist design: in doubt, rather go for a minimalist design when it comes to using colouring in surveys than a maximalist design. Too many colours and images may create the effect of junk or a general lack of trustworthiness.

  • Colour contrasts: make sure to implement colour contrasts in case you are working with background colours and font colours at the same time, i.e. avoid using the same colour for both elements, otherwise the text might become partially or fully invisible.

  • Colour intuition: avoid a response bias by not using colours in a misleading way. For example, a coloured response scale ought to go hand in hand with an intuitive colour distribution, i.e. a more positive response expression (e.g. “Strongly agree”) ought to take on green colour shades and not red ones and a more negative response expression (e.g. “Strongly disagree”) vice versa.

  • Colour harmonisation: from a design perspective, it makes sense to combine colours that harmonise well to maximise the quality of the survey feel. Shades of the same colour for instance will harmonise better than using two or more bright colours from different ends of the colour palette.

Don’t forget to do your research!

It’s vital to do your homework before splashing colours around in your survey. Always bear in mind that colours can have completely opposing meanings in different countries and cultures. Hence, depending on your target audience, you have to be certain about your respondents’ cultural background to avoid pitfalls and collect the best data possible in terms of quantity and quality. Fortunately, nowadays there is a ton of information available on colours, cultures and psychology on the internet.

For example, the creative platform Shutterstock - which distributes media formats such as images and videos publicly and ought to therefore have a good grasp on colours in media as well as their emotional effects - posted a clear and insightful article on the Symbolism of colors and color meanings around the world.

Check it out yourself. Better safe than sorry!

Mots-clés: Survey Science, Survey Design, Survey Tips, Survey Colours

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