I have 4 point rating slider question in my survey form. The survey can have multiple questions with sliders. The current design uses different color on the selector handle(circle) to distinguish between selected(blue) and un-selected(grey) states. When the user launches the form, the slider questions are in the un-selected state.

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When a slider question is un-selected, the form shows error upon submission. In early usability trials, we found that the user is not able to tell if he has made the choice OR not(because we show the rating handle in both states).

We tried to park the selector handle out side the position markers in the un-selected state. But, this design didn't get favorable reviews.

What would be the best approach to address this issue?

Additional Information:

There are two types of users in the system: survey creators are survey takers. The screen above is shown to the survey takers.

Survey creators want to see the rating scale because it looks flashy. I personally prefer to use radio button group to represent the rating scale as it makes the survey taking easier. I want to hear from the community to get a second/alternative opinion(s).

  • Interesting question, it's always been hard to show a "default" state on these
    – Ben Brocka
    Nov 18, 2011 at 21:05
  • Your users are correct. If the slider shows a value then that should be its value and there should be no error. You are correct. The control to use is a radio button group. The survey creators are incorrect. That’s your real problem. Tell them you don’t use a joystick to play piano. Provide evidence that your users are annoyed by the slider, not thrilled on how flashy it is. Consider ways to add flash around the scale without hurting function (e.g., reinforcing highlighting of selected value). Nov 18, 2011 at 22:07

4 Answers 4


I think there are two problems here:

First, you are showing a discrete scale (4 points) using a continuous spectrum scale widget (many points). It should be represented as discrete states, not a continuous spectrum.

Second, you are inventing a new widget for something people have encountered many times. People have seen the four radio buttons laid out horizontally. Most people know how that works. This widget is unfamiliar and requires people to create a new mental model of how it operates. Your usability tests show that they are creating the wrong mental model.

My solution would be to switch to a discrete scale with four radio buttons laid out horizontally. Action is required to answer the question. The default is the null state (nothing selected).

It's not sexy, but it is:

  • familiar to people
  • gives four distinct options
  • requires no action for the null state

Try a usability test and see if it works. If it does, then you're good. If it doesn't then you have some other problem.

From your clarification to the question, the real problem is the "survey creators." They believe they are right. So they are interpreting the usability data to mean either (a) the users are wrong or (b) the design is wrong. The answer is that the design is wrong. But they're not willing to accept the right design. Your real problem is changing their minds.

  • +1. I have added additional information to my question about the background. Nov 18, 2011 at 21:48
  • Then you need to do a usability test of the 2 options to show the "survey creators" that one works and the other does not. Give them evidence. They are thinking that users should behave some way and you need to find a non-biased way of showing how people actually behave and what actually works, even when that's not what you want.
    – Karl Fast
    Nov 18, 2011 at 22:30

Do you have to use a slider? Why not four stars, with no stars meaning no data entered? Netflix does this well, with tooltips for each star indicating its significance.

IF you must retain a slider, you could make it a five point scale with zero in the middle as a default.


Given your restrictions - having to use a slider because someone else thinks it looks good - I would suggest that you use a check box to indicate not selected as an addition. If this is not checked, then the scale is disabled, when you check it the scale is enabled.

But, as others have said, this is the wrong tool to use, and your better option would be to tell them to do things properly.


Assuming that the slider is a must, you could try initially displaying the slider without the knob, and only displaying the knob on mouseover. Then it's pretty clear that no values are selected, and you still get to keep the flash.

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