Posts tagged: data

Structuring surveys to avoid confusion

Posted 2 September 2012 in business, research | No comments yet

Tonight I went to look at the web site for Australian TV show, The Project, to find information about an upcoming story (which I failed to find.. hmf!) and a little overlay appeared asking me to take part in a survey so of course I accepted. It turned out the survey was being conducted by the same people as the SMH survey I wrote about the other week.

The survey started innocently enough asking demographic information. It asked the same “Where do you access the internet from?” question I’d had in the SMH survey, and happily in this version they provided checkboxes so that I could select multiple options. Then unfortunately the survey began to go downhill.


Structuring surveys for useful data

Posted 11 August 2012 in business, research | No comments yet

I was checking out the weather on Sydney Morning Herald, a web site for a newspaper here in Sydney, Australia, when a little window appeared asking me to take part in a survey so that they can understand their customers better.  I’m always happy to complete surveys, in large part because I’m curious to see how other people structure them, and I always try to answer honestly. I’ve built and analysed many surveys, and people often underestimate the level of effort required in creating a survey structure that can generate useful data.

While I don’t know the objectives of the SMH survey, several aspects of it made me realise that they’re likely to end up with mis-representative and unusable data.

Early in the survey, it asked me for my main country of residence, so I picked “Australia”:

That was followed by a question about the state of Australia that I live in, so I picked “New South Wales (NSW)”:

The next question left me confused:

The question asked me for my monthly household income in US dollars. Considering the SMH is an Australian newspaper, and that I had just specified that I was living in Australia, asking me to try and specify my monthly income in a foreign currency felt just a little absurd (however, it’s not the first time that I’ve seen an Australian company do this in a survey). Some people may not realise it’s asking about another currency (or is that an unintentional mistake?), some might try to be helpful and convert their income to US dollars, some may pick the easy option of “Prefer not to say”, some may pick a random figure, and others may drop-out of the survey because it suddenly feels a little difficult or not applicable to them.

A few alternatives for the survey could be to ask for a monthly income in the currency of the country of residence, or, with the SMH’s presumably majority-Australian audience, it could ask for monthly income in Australian dollars while skipping the income question if the country of residence was not Australia. The decision to personalise or skip the question would depend on the objectives of the survey.

Another flaw in the survey was when they asked “Where do you access the Internet from?” but they provided mixed options like “Home” (a location) and “Smart Phone” (a device), and asked to “Please select all that apply” but provided the options as radio buttons so that only a single selection could be made:

Those weren’t the only issues I had with the survey, but they’re enough to point out that if you’re using surveys for research then their content and structure are vital and should be tested thoroughly, and that if you receive data from a survey it’s important to know how it was captured so that it can be analysed appropriately.

Data visualisation to encourage blood donation

Posted 24 November 2010 in design | No comments yet

On my morning bus-trip to work I’ve become fascinated by a sign I pass hanging in the Red Cross window on Elizabeth St, Sydney. Each day I have to check the three blood drops to see how full they are. Tonight I decided to visit the sign for a closer look.

Australian Red Cross - Donate Blood - data visualisation

The sign seems to be a customised whiteboard that can be updated with a whiteboard-marker to display current data on blood, plasma and platelet donations which, from my observations, they do daily. Positioned on the blood drops are what appear to be different sized white magnets that can be switched to visually represent how much of their monthly blood donation targets they have reached.

This is a clever example of presenting data in a visually appealing way. The status of blood donations can be understood at a glance and, on a busy thoroughfare, it can create awareness and encourage action.

Google sheds light on what we want to know

Posted 10 June 2010 in research | No comments yet

On a mission to find out how to do something, I got so distracted by Google Suggest that I’ve completely forgotten what I was trying to learn to do in the first place.

“Google Suggest offers searches by other users that are similar to the one you’re typing”1 based on some super algorithm that takes in to account, among other things, popularity of the search term and your region (eg. will differ from

So Australians appear to be a complex bunch – when they’re not busy figuring out how to woo, fondle and bonk, they’re trying to look their best to get a job training a dragon2.

Google Australia - "how to" search

Google Australia - "how to" search


So what about The US is similar to Australia but, rather than just have sex, they want to get pregnant while playing games and downloading videos. - "how to" search - "how to" search


And They seem to be a cartoon-drawing spotty mix of the Australians and the Americans. - "how to" search - "how to" search


Finland on the other hand are so dragon-fixated that they’ll break the law by rolling a joint while waiting for their torrents to download. - "how to" search - "how to" search


And if we try an equivalent of “how to” in Finnish, among similar ideas of losing weight, kissing, getting pregnant, and training dragons (lohikäärme = dragon if you were interested), they also want to know how to hit a woman, how to make a fever go higher and how to make a bomb. - "kuinka" search - "kuinka" search


I wonder if Google is encouraging people to search for odd terms by displaying Google Suggest for basic terms like “how to”. I was about to search for something but the list that appeared distracted me (“Would kids see this? Why is there an apostrophe after sex? If unemployment isn’t so bad why is everyone doing job applications?”). If you allow the distraction, click on one of the suggestions, are you increasing the popularity of that search term thereby keeping it in the suggested terms for a longer period of time? Will the quirky searches rise through the ranks to take up the top spots?


1. Google Suggest
2. Okay, I know it’s actually a movie but I prefer my take on it.