My UX Toolkit is a series of posts exploring different tools and techniques used in the user experience design and research process, my understanding of them, and when they can be applied. UX is a broad and varied space that can range from quantitative statistical analysis to graphic design, from branding and content strategy to storyboarding. Here I am trying to scratch the surface of how UXers UX, share my knowledge and further my own understanding of this vast career field.
My last UX Toolkit post focused on A/B testing. A/B testing is a UX Research method that is inexpensive to conduct and can yield quick results, but only gathers quantitative data. On the other side of the spectrum, as far as time and money commitment vs richness of information gathered is a diary study.
A diary study is a long form UX Research method, that can extend from 1 week to over a month. This study focuses on collecting qualitative user information by asking users to self report and log their activity and insights with a product at predetermined intervals for a set amount of time. This method can be thought of as a “poor man’s Field Study.”
Diary studies can be used to evaluate a users interaction with a specific product, like a particular app or website. They can also be used to investigate a users behaviours around a specific task or behavior like online shopping or booking a vacation. Diary studies are very useful for revealing information with a great deal of context. They can be used when a researcher wants to have a deeper understanding of the users’ habits, pain points, or how their interaction with a product changes over time.
After determining the behavior being evaluated, researchers must determine the timeline of the study, the participant criteria, and the number of participants needed, usually between 5 and 10. Participants should be incentivised monetarily and it is common practice to disburse payments in instalments to encourage continued participation throughout the duration of the study.
One of the most important steps of the setup is to provide a very detailed explanation of the expectations for participants. This includes in depth training on how participants will log their observations with examples. Simultaneously care must be taken to not box in participants too much, to the point that they cannot offer their observations naturally.
During the logging period, it is important for researchers and participants to have a communication plan in addition to the participant log plan and regular check ins. This way researchers can encourage continued participation and answer questions. Depending on the method chosen for logging information, participants often utilize email, questionnaires, text messages, paper diaries, or specialezed software such as one note or FocusVision.
At the conclusion of the study after the information collected has been evaluated each participant should be brought back for a follow up interview. This is a chance for researchers to uncover further details and deeper context to the logs and ask clarifying questions. The final step is to evaluate the qualitative information and begin to create a greater picture of the user journey with the product or behavior being studied.
Diary studies are an opportunity to gain deep qualitative insight into user behavior and thought processes. The cons of a diary study are that they are expensive and time consuming to run. Due to the nature of the study they can only be done with a limited number of participants and continued participant participation throughout the duration of the study is never guaranteed. However, when well planned and conducted the information gained is invaluable.