Case Study: Patagonia Makes Questions Easy To Answer

A major challenge with designing health questionnaires is making sure that questions are both clinically meaningful and are easy for users to answer. One example has to do with hip-to-waist ratio, which can be an important indicator of heart health. I’ve seen health risk assessments ask people their hip and waist measurements, but how many people know those measurements without checking? And how many people have a tape measure close at hand to take the measurement? Even using your clothing size as a proxy is likely to be inaccurate since so many brands use vanity sizing or are inconsistent with other brands (I learned in a recent closet clean-out that I have every size from XS to XL in my closet, and they fit me).

“Simple” questions can be hard for people to answer correctly. That means much of the health data we collect through self-report may be inaccurate.

Although it’s not a health questionnaire, I was really impressed with Patagonia’s interactive tool to help figure out what size clothing a shopper should select. The tool, which only shows up when I visit the Patagonia site on my mobile phone, breaks down some of the common questions about how clothing fits in ways that are much easier for people to understand and answer.

How it works:

1. Enter basic measurements like height and weight. Note that you can enter each numeral using the keypad, which makes data entry easy. 2. They also ask your age, which is unusual for determining clothing sizes. That's why an explanation of why it's a question is so helpful to have.

1. Enter basic measurements like height and weight. Note that you can enter each numeral using the keypad, which makes data entry easy.

2. They also ask your age, which is unusual for determining clothing sizes. That’s why an explanation of why it’s a question is so helpful to have.

Next up, everyone’s favorite topic to discuss: Belly size!3. Add visuals to the question so your intent is clear and people can more easily select an accurate answer

3. In this case, Patagonia helps circumvent confusion by adding visuals to the response options. This makes their intent clear and helps people more easily select an accurate answer (because what does “average” even mean really?).4. Repeat the image-assisted answer options as needed4. Repeat the image-assisted answer options as needed.

This next bit was my favorite: Rather than simply recommending a size based on body measurements, Patagonia asks about other clothing you wear. This was pretty easy for me to answer and helped me feel confident about their recommendations.5. Since clothing size and fits can vary widely between brands, ask about what specific other clothing people like, and extrapolate from there5. Since clothing size and fits can vary widely between brands, ask about what specific other clothing people like, and extrapolate from there.
6. Even with all that, preferences vary too. So, why not ask what type of fit a person wants for this particular garment?
6. Even with all that, preferences vary too. In this case, I was looking at a skirt but provided fit information on a favorite pair of pants. Rather than assume I want my skirt and pants to fit the same way, Patagonia asks what type of fit I want for this particular garment.

And finally . . . my recommendation for what to buy!A size recommendation for a skirt based on input to the previous question, along with a probability that the buyer will like the fit based on what the algorithm knowsPersonally, even though a 52% probability of being happy with a purchase isn’t that good, I felt pretty confident about this size recommendation after all those steps. In particular, using a pair of pants that fit me well as a reference item reassured me that Patagonia had good information about what I was looking for. All in all, I loved this sizing system! And I plan to leverage what I learned from it the next time I find myself designing a health questionnaire.

And now for a confession . . . I didn’t buy the skirt, so I can’t tell you if the recommendation actually ended up being a good one or not. If you have bought something after going through this sizing process at Patagonia, I’d love to know if the recommendation worked for you!