Sometimes we refer to the interactive question pattern as a “wizard”.

No, it’s not someone with magical powers who is going to come and fix all your content issues. To your users though, the simple and clear answers they can get from a wizard can seem pretty magical.

No one wants to see people struggle with online government services when they try to accomplish tasks, such as:

  • finding out if they’re eligible for a benefit
  • figuring out whether or not they need a licence or authorization
  • choosing the right reporting or contact channel
  • deciding whether certain rules apply to them

Use the interactive questions design pattern to help your team deliver modern, efficient, and reliable services to Canadians. This design approach can save them both the time and frustration of piecing together the information themselves.

Interactive questions provide customized answers

Interactive questions present people with a series of simple questions. These lead to the specific answer they need to continue with or complete their task.

Interactive questions design pattern

People get confused by content that is irrelevant to their task. When there are different rules for different situations, it’s especially hard for people to parse through it all and find what’s relevant for them.

As one user put it, “you are telling me everything you know, not what I need to know.”

When people can’t understand what rules or information applies to their situation, they’ll call or go into a local Service Canada centre. This causes long wait times for call centres, and unnecessary visits to in-person service centres.

Interactive questions reduce distracting details. They help people find and focus on customized answers.

This pattern is well suited to helping people understand:

  • eligibility criteria
  • applicability of rules
  • compliance requirements that depend on specific situations or conditions

Proven, user-tested pattern that improves task success

People are not looking for information on - they’re looking for answers, personalized to their situation and what they have to do next. In situations where there’s complexity or math involved, you can improve task success by helping people through their journey.

Consider the matter of deciding whether to get a visa or eTA to visit Canada.

It depends on:

  • how long you’ll be in Canada
  • what you’ll be doing in Canada
  • your country of citizenship
  • whether or not you have US permanent residence

… and many other factors.

We first co-designed and tested a set of interactive questions for visas with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada back in 2017. Potential visitors to Canada answer a few simple questions and get an answer with links to the next step they should take.

The tool has been serving visitors on since 2017, and has been updated regularly to reflect changing visa situations.

Find out if you need a visa

Most recently we’ve used this pattern for travellers coming to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. Web analytics, call centre data and feedback have all shown that the complex travel restrictions are very hard for people to understand.

To help people find answers specific to their personal situation, teams across government worked together to create a set of interactive questions and answers. As you move through the questions, your answers to all previous questions appear in a list at the top of the page. This means you can double check that you’ve accurately described your situation, and you can back up a question if you notice a mistake.

Find out if you can enter Canada

A long description can be found after the image.
Interactive questions for travel restrictions

The "Find out if you can travel to Canada" wizard displays all the answers you've provided as a persistent list at the top of the page above each new question it asks you.

Other successful examples of this design pattern include:

Designing interactive questions

Creating a successful set of interactive questions is very different from traditional writing for the web.

To start out, talk to your call centre to see where there might be a need for this design approach. Chances are, if people are calling frequently about complex services, the text on the web isn’t doing enough for them.

The importance of working with call centres (blog post)

First, map out the flow of decisions people need to make. You can start by sketching on a whiteboard. Then progress to a flowchart in Visio, a jamboard or even in a spreadsheet.

You’ll find that you have to move the decisions around to avoid repeating questions. Walk through the flow with the policy and service experts to make sure you’ve captured all the decisions, in the right order.

Crafting the answers for the end of each decision flow also takes a lot of collaboration with your larger team of policy and service subject matter experts.

Prototyping and testing interactive questions with potential users is essential. Plan on several rounds of testing with different sets to users to make sure they understand the questions and the answers. Make adjustments before you put it on your website and be prepared to track what people are doing so you can continue to adjust and improve after launch.

Final Word

Interactive questions are an untapped opportunity to help Canadians find answers.

They help more than just visitors though. Interactive questions can:

  • improve people’s understanding of regulations or eligibility criteria
  • identify gaps in web, policy or program information
  • reduce the number of ineligible applications
  • reduce the number of calls and complaints that your department receives
  • give Canadians the confidence that they should use a service, and that the government is supporting them

Learn more