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Diary study in UX research: explanation and step-by-step plan (2024 update)

Diary studies or diary studies are a valuable tool in the field of UX research. In this article, we explain what a diary study is and how to conduct it. We also explain how to combine a diary study with other research techniques.

What is a diary study?

A diary study is a research method in which respondents take daily notes about their experiences with a product, service or specific activity over a predetermined period of time. These notes, also called diaries, can range from textual notes to images, audio recordings and even videos.

Diary studies offer researchers deep insights into users' behaviours, needs and emotions in their natural environment. A major advantage of diary study as a research method is that it is not a snapshot, but data is collected over a longer period of time.

When do you conduct a diary study?

Diary studies can be effectively applied in different phases of the UX design process: exploratory phase, validation phase and optimisation phase.

In the exploratory phase, diary studies help explore user behaviour and needs, identify problems and opportunities, and gather valuable contextual information.

In the validation phase, diary studies can verify assumptions and hypotheses, evaluate design concepts and solutions, and gather feedback on prototypes.

In the optimisation phase, diary studies provide the opportunity to collect long-term usage data, identify areas for improvement and optimisation opportunities, and evaluate the impact of iterative changes.

Combining diary studies with other UX research methods

To get a complete picture of the user experience and a deeper understanding of specific aspects, diary studies can be combined with other UX research methods. Some examples of combinations are:

  • In-depth interviews. By conducting additional interviews, researchers can obtain detailed contextual information that complements the diary study.
  • Questionnaires. By sending questionnaires to a large group of users, additional data can be collected. If the numbers of respondents are high enough, this has the advantage that results can be generalised. 
  • Focus groups. By inviting respondents to a focus group afterwards, additional insights and new ideas can be gathered.
  • Usability testing. Conducting usability testing alongside a diary study can help identify specific problems and evaluate the usability of a product or service.

Planning and preparing a diary study

A successful diary study depends on thorough planning and preparation. For instance, it is important to clearly define the objectives of the study and recruit the right test participants. The duration and frequency of the study process must be determined, as well as the development of appropriate study instruments. Moreover, ethical and privacy considerations must be taken into account to ensure the privacy of the participants.

Conducting a diary study

In many cases, an information session is organised at the start of a diary study in which respondents are given instructions on how to take their notes. It is crucial to provide structured questions to obtain specific information. Different data collection techniques and tools can be used, such as digital platforms, mobile apps and even physical diaries. During implementation, challenges may arise, such as lack of participant engagement or data bias. It is therefore important to monitor results in the interim so that adjustments can be made where necessary.

Analysis and interpretation of diary study data

Analysing and interpreting diary study data requires a careful approach. Data collection can be done through various methods, such as transcribing, coding and categorising. Identifying patterns and trends in the collected data helps in understanding user behaviour and discovering key insights. Moreover, it is essential to consider context and user experience when interpreting the results. If other research techniques are used alongside the diary study, the results can be combined to get a more complete picture.

Report and results

Putting together a clear report of diary study data is crucial to effectively communicate the findings. Using quotes and anecdotes from participants' notes can reinforce results and highlight human aspects. Visualising data with graphs, charts and other visual aids can help visualise patterns and trends. To avoid the report ending up in a drawer and not being looked at again, it is advisable to present the results in front of stakeholders.

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