What is a diary study?

A diary study helps provide insight into overall behaviour and experience.  The method involves people recording specific events, feelings or interactions, in a diary supplied by the researcher.

At Bunnyfoot, we regularly run diary studies for clients who are looking to get a deep understanding of their users over a period of time, more recently we have carried out a study which ran over a period of 4 months with 50 households for a major TV provider.

These days people use portable devices (e.g. smart phone) to capture a person’s experience in context (e.g. their work place or at home). People record their behaviour and thoughts at their own will and upload it to a service that the researcher has live access to. The great thing about diary studies is, they can uncover behaviour that may not be articulated in an interview or easily visible to outsiders.

When to use a diary study?

  • To understand the overall behaviour, environment and time scale that your participants go through.
  • To understand better your full user experience map.
  • To get insight into a user’s true day-to-day activities without influencing them. They are in their own environment and on their own terms.
  • If your services are used by customers over a longer period or if you wish them to be.

Why use a diary study?

  • They are less intrusive than observation or shadowing
  • Most people these days carry a smartphone
  • It is easier to collect data digitally than in a written diary
  • Collection of data happens in real-time
  • Mobile devices have camera, video, voice and written text abilities
  • Participants can choose video, text or voice entry and researchers can stipulate if they want a combination. (e.g. picture with annotation or 1 minute video)
  • You gather unfiltered data
  • Users are more honest because they control what they tell you
  • To get an overview of behaviour in a user’s natural environment
  • You get a lot of data from a potentially smaller sample of people (or households)
  • It is easier to get a wider geographical spread
  • Research can happen in parallel over several countries
  • Today there are multiple “mobile ethnographic tools” which increase the accessibility to user groups normally not willing or able to partake (e.g. child insight next to their parent)

 What might some of the challenges be?

  • The process can take longer – depending on how long it takes to anaylse the data
  • You could potentially miss some verbal feedback if your ethnographic tool does not have the ability to comment and talk to the participants
  • Technology at the user’s end might be unreliable (e.g. internet connection or phone storage)

If you would like to talk to us more about diary studies or any other research method, we’d love to hear from you.

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About Bunnyfoot

We are psychologists, interaction and design experts, researchers, usability specialists. We cover Web, software, mobile, print, service design and more.
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