Use a Diary Study to Extend Your UX research

Use a Diary Study to Extend Your UX research

Diary Studies
Summary:

Jodie Moule examines diary studies: what they are, when to use one and some useful tips about setting up your own research to make good use of them.

A Diary Study can be a very effective way to uncover habits and behaviours over time. In this article we examine diary studies; showing what they are, when to use one and some useful tips about setting up your own.

This short animated video will give you an overview of how and why you might use a diary study:

So what the heck is a diary study?!

A diary study is a daily log of activities (read: behaviours) that you get a user to keep over an extended period of time. You might get users to take photos to explain their activities and highlight things that stood out to them across the course of their day. I prefer this photo method as you gain better insight into the users’ mind-set than words alone generally offer.

At Symplicit we run diary studies with our customer groups as we see more of their habits and behaviours over a given time-frame. This is important, as people often forget he day-to-day things that matter most to us as researchers. The extended time also allows us to monitor habits for a longer timeframe than other techniques such as shadowing might.

Diary Studies
Click to view larger image.

When would you use one?

A diary study is often conducted following a ‘contextual inquiry’, ‘in-depth interview’, or ‘shadowing’ method with your target customer groups. You do it because you want to delve more deeply into the habits and behaviours of your users. Diary studies are longitudinally focused and timeframes might range from 2 weeks to 2 months. It depends on what you are investigating and how long you think it might take to observe patterns of behaviour that reflect common, or less common, habits or routines.

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How do you get started?

  1. You firstly need to recruit your users. We tend to recruit for contextual inquiry or interview processes and then note the people we want to learn more about over an extended period. There is no need to over-bake it, you probably only need between 4-6 users. But choose wisely! You want engaged and talkative people, not the ones that were hard to extract information from!
  2. You’ll need to brief your participants on what you want them to do over the diary period and give them either a physical book to record daily insights, or an online tool to help you engage with them electronically. We tend to use Evernote and Yammer.
  3. Check in every couple of days to ensure they are doing what you want them to do and have not misinterpreted the task.
  4. Once the designated timeframe is up I visit the person’s house and have them talk through their diary with me. Or we conduct a group session to get everyone in the room discussing their experiences together.

As with any method, a diary study is exploratory, so do what you need to do in order to get to the bottom of the answers you seek. Don’t be afraid to get creative too! Sometimes an interesting question or set of tasks you throw at people mid-study helps to uncover hidden gems of behaviour that you might not have exposed otherwise.

Most of all, have fun with it. Good luck!

Jodie Moule
Written by
Jodie Moule
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2 comments
  • It’s appropriate time to make a few plans for the longer term and it’s time to be happy.
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  • This seems like a very inefficient method and prone to bias on several levels. First, selection bias. The user group that agrees to this clearly has time on their hands and is not the typical busy user we are trying to convert. Second, they may be reporting in their diary what they think you want to hear. Nielsen used diaries through the decades to determine what people were watching on TV. People were reporting a lot more PBS shows than they were actually watching.

    I would use Google Analytics and an mouse / eyeball measurement tool to determine this with greater efficiency and accuracy.

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