Visual Preference Surveys


Visual Preference Surveys (VPS) are tools to help communities establish a common vision of what their localities should look like by asking participants to rate their preference or dislike of selected images of the community.

Tool Description

A visual preference survey (VPS) is comprised of images that present contrasting images of the living environment - its streets, houses, stores, office buildings, parks, open space and key civic features.  Presented through a slide show at a meeting, the images are then rated by participants, who yields information about the types of scenery or subjects that citizens like to see in the community.

The VPS is often conducted at a public meeting or workshop organized to discuss some aspect of the land use and transportation planning process. Survey participants are given a few seconds to rate each of the 40 slides on a scale of -10 to +10 (with 0 being 'neutral') depending upon how much they like or dislike the image. They are assured ahead of time that there is no right or wrong answer. The quick pace of the survey seeks to gauge their initial, 'gut' reaction to the images that are presented.

The scores for each slide are then tallied to determine the group's average score - a quantified collective opinion - for each image. The images with the highest negative and highest positive averages indicate where there is the most consensus in the group. The slides are shown again, and the participants are told the average score for each slide. Group members are asked why they rated the images the way they did - an activity that generates spontaneous, high-energy discussion and debate.

Summary of Costs

Associated Costs
  • Additional Supplies
  • Facilitation


  • Relatively speaking, the VPS is a simple and inexpensive tool to use, requiring little prep time and few resources.
  • Visual Preference Surveys can be a fun, engaging way to introduce community character at town meetings.
  • VPS tools can be adapted for other venues; they can be completed on paper, with a set of photographs mailed to citizens; used with keypad polling and other electronic meeting tools; or built into an online survey.


  • A visual preference survey (VPS) is only as good as the set of images that it uses, and the results are only as representative as the citizens who take part in the survey.
  • Visual Preference Surveys are not useful for identifying elements of community character that cannot be photographed.
  • Lighting, weather, and background activities in the photographs may influence participants' choices.
Submitted By: admin
Last Updated: January 31, 2012, 5:09 pm

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