Google Research

Scaling the Smileys: A Cross-Cultural Investigation of Numeric Intervals and Construct Meaning for Smiley Face Satisfaction Scales



Contextual user experience (UX) surveys are brief surveys embedded in a website or mobile app and triggered during or after a user-product interaction. They are used to measure user attitude and experience in the context of actual product usage. In these surveys, smiley faces (with or without verbal labels) are often used as answer scales for questions measuring constructs such as satisfaction. From studies done in the US in 2016 and 2017, we found that carefully designed smiley faces may distribute fairly evenly along a numerical scale (0-100) and scaling property further improved with endpoint verbal labels (Sedley, Yang, & Hutchinson, presented at APPOR 2017).

With the propagation of mobile apps products around the world, the survey research community is compelled to test the generalizability of single-population findings (often from the US) to cross-national, cross-language and cross-cultural contexts.

The current study builds upon the above scaling study as well as work by cross-cultural survey methodologies that investigated meanings of verbal scales (e.g., Smith, Mohler, Harkness, & Onodera, 2005). We investigate the scaling properties of smiley faces in a number of distinct cultural and language settings: US (English), Japan (Japanese), Germany (German), Spain (Spanish), India (English), and Brazil (Portuguese).

Specifically, we explore construct alignment by capturing respondents’ own interpretations of the smiley face variants, via open-ended responses.

We also assess scaling properties of various smiley designs by measuring each smiley face on a 0-100 scale, to calculate semantic distance between smileys. This is done by both presenting each smiley face independently and in-context with other smileys. We additionally evaluate the effect of including verbal endpoint labels with smiley scale.

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