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Optimising your consultation for mobile

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One aspect of good consultation design that is only getting more important is ensuring your survey works well for mobile users

With more than two-thirds of UK adults owning a smartphone, and mobiles overtaking computers as the preferred way to access the internet, it's crucial to get in the habit of considering mobile users.

How easy it is to complete your consultations from a smartphone or tablet will make a huge difference to your participants – and, by extension, your response rate.

In this article, we've collected some principles and practical pointers to make sure your consultations are optimised for mobile.

Rule #1 

As ever, the first rule is 'think of the audience' – so let's start by looking at an example of a bad mobile consultation, to help appreciate how that can feel for users.

Try visiting our specially-made 'terrible mobile survey' from your phone - but please make sure your phone is connected to wifi first, otherwise (thanks to one of its deliberate design flaws) you'll burn through a lot of mobile data!

Make it easy

You might have noticed some of the factors making the 'bad' example frustrating to complete: pages taking a long time to load, important information being difficult to read on a small screen, certain embedded media not working properly etc etc. These are all good things to try to avoid when making your surveys.

As with all consultation design, the key to mobile optimisation is to make it as easy as possible for your participants to respond.

For instance, in general, do try to:

  • Keep file sizes small. No one likes burning up their data limits!
  • Keep questions as simple as possible. For example, try not to use too many free text questions, especially when a radio button or matrix format could do a similar job. (It's far easier to select an option on a touchscreen than to type out a long, free-form message.)
  • Keep actions as prominent as possible: aim for short and direct wording in your questions and any introductory copy; think about putting additional information in Fact Banks (which fold away, taking up less page space) and so on. In general, you want to keep the main actions ('answer this question', 'submit response' etc) as visible as you can on the page.


Rule #2 

Test, tweak, test again

As with cooking, it's important that you keep trying what you're making throughout the process to see if it's working as intended.

Not sure if your survey is sufficiently easy for mobile users to complete? Visit it on your own smartphone and see how it feels. Worried that ranking question won't display properly on a small screen? Ask that colleague with the iPad (there's always one, right?) to load up the page and see how it looks. 

Learn to love the 'Preview' mode!


Rule #3 

Consider your content - some practical pointers

Think about image size

Images look great but they can sometimes be very large files – and mobile users don't like large files. So it's important to hit the right balance when it comes to pictures: they need to be big enough to look good, small enough to not chew through loads of bandwidth. See this article for more details on recommended image sizes.

Be careful with embedded content - especially PDFs

Embedded content can sometimes behave differently on mobile devices. In particular, embedded PDFs will not display on the page – instead, users will be given a link to download the file. (This is not a Citizen Space-specific trait, it's just how mobile browsers work.) This means that, ideally, you shouldn't rely on embedded PDFs to provide key content in your consultation. 

Wherever possible, look for ways to put supporting material and other important content into the main body of your survey – preferably, on the same page as any questions it relates to, so that users can easily access all the information they need as they're entering their answers.

For example, rather than embed a single, long PDF on the overview page of your survey, you can copy and paste the relevant words/sections directly into the appropriate question page:

image of a consultation overview with an image of flooding and explanatory text rather than an embedded PDF

Use lots of dropdowns/Fact Banks

You may sometimes find yourself with lots of content that you want to include in the main body of your survey – but you also don't want to present participants with a wall of text that takes 10 minutes just to scroll through. 

That's where Fact Banks come in. 

Fact Banks are 'collapsible' areas above each question where you can provide further relevant information. This means users can click on them to expand the Fact Bank, see all the information it contains and then fold it away again when they're done. This means you can provide heaps of supporting material whilst keeping your pages neat and tidy, with the questions front-and-centre.

See our article on how to use Fact Banks for more detail.

Help people navigate

Mobile users will often be responding on the go, or when they have limited time, and they usually won't be predisposed to navigate round lots of different pages/supporting documents before responding. The more it can be a single, seamless, 'straight line' experience, the better for a mobile user.

Some simple ways you can help with this include:

  • State up-front (in the consultation overview page) how long you expect it to take to complete the consultation.
  • Where possible, tell people how many questions there are to answer.
  • Use clear survey titles that describe the subject under consultation. Titles are displayed throughout the survey, so they can help people keep their bearings/not lose their train of thought!
  • Make sure each page/question has enough information to help people understand what they're replying to. For example, try not to ask a vague question like 'what are your preferences about this?' where the only point of reference is back on the consultation overview page.

It's also worth noting that every Citizen Space survey includes a 'save and return later' feature as standard, which allows participants to pause part-way through a response and complete it at some other time. It might be worth drawing attention to this for mobile users in particular, as it can allow them to, for instance, revisit a particularly detailed survey from a desktop computer at home or work.


A quick recap

  • Always think of your audience
  • Make it as easy as possible for your respondents to take part
  • Test often
  • Don't worry! This stuff can sound like a lot to take in, or a lot to do, at first – but it'll quickly become second-nature and just a regular part of your consultation design process. And your consultations will be more effective as a result.