UX explained: Diary Studies

A diary study is a form of user research where participants self-report their activities to create data about their processes, attitudes and expectations. It is a research method often associated with UX and service design projects.

To create a diary study, you’ll need to define your goal and appropriately brief the participants. How you run your study depends on who you’re recruiting and the topic of research. The method of interaction needs to be simple and straightforward for both the participant and the researcher.

Whilst it’s nice to use a fancy programme with user logins, you risk losing out on important data by making it a chore and creating too much impact in their daily routine.

Asking some to keep a simple notebook with them to log the various details of there day is super simple.

After taking the time to consider how much information you’ll need to get great UX insights from the research, it’s important to define a well structured introductory session with participants. This can be done individually, but equally, focus groups work quite well. Usually, these sessions take about 45 minutes to 1 hour and should include:
  • Introduction to the project aims and reason for this research
  • Key dates for contact and follow up
  • Contact details of main researchers involved for any questions
  • An example entry to use as best practice
  • A list of questions that each diary entry should cover
  • A clear explanation of minimum entry expectations e.g. at least 2 entries per week

Even with the best instruction in the world, it’s important to feedback to diary study participants to reassure them that they’re doing the right thing or to guide them if they’re not. Be sure to set aside time at the start of the study to respond to participants entries. This also helps participants feel more engaged with the study by knowing someone is on the other side, paying attention.

Diary studies should go on for a few weeks, as many of us know that no two weeks are usually the same. It also gives us a chance to gather edge case data, that your client might not consider n area of growth or a problem that could result in greater efficiency if solved.

Time for monitoring diary studies can be underestimated. If you’re dealing with 20 or more participants, this can easily become a full-time job for the study duration. Diary entries need to be monitored daily to ensure you respond to questions or probe for more detail whilst the entry is still fresh in their minds.

Before starting the study, decide what tags (e.g. device, location, activity type) will be applied to the data when uploading information to a spreadsheet. Deciding on this up front will make the monitoring process smoother in the long run.

This should go without saying, but allowing yourself enough time to read and digest each UX diary entry is vitally important when leading up to the analysis stage.

Analysis and wrap up

If the project can allow it, leave yourself a few days to analyse the data and draw conclusions to validate in your wrap up sessions. Develop tools specifically for your user group and topic to help participants expand on their entries. Wrap up sessions can be done one-to-one or in groups depending on the sensitivity of the topic.

In summary, there is no one set way of running a UX diary study. Like any research project, it entirely depends on the who, what, and why.

However, planning and organisation can help make the user diary run smoothly, making it more enjoyable for both the participant and the researcher.

I’ve used this method in the following case study:

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