Penelope Rance

My UX research & design ramblings

Running a Diary Study

A diary study is a way to collect information from participants across time, sampling their thoughts, feelings and behaviours at key moments through a day, week or month depending on what you are trying to find out.

But because of the time and cost involved it is not something we get the chance to do very often. So you can imagine my excitement when I was asked to conduct one for a client to look at their on-boarding process.

Having never run one before I started with a little research of my own - how best to run a diary study?

After a lot of reading and with a much better understanding of how they work, I set about designing my own.

I started by working with the project lead, Laura, to work out exactly what research questions we were trying to answer.

With a better idea of what we were trying to achieve, I could write a recruitment brief of who we wanted to work with, and then write up the materials the participants would need and set up the tech we would need for them to report to us.

In the end we asked them to report to us using WhatsApp (they had a choice of message apps but WhatsApp came out top) with more detail via a Google form.

I also wrote a workbook for them that explained what the study was about, examples of what we were looking for, how to contact us and details of how to take a screenshot on your phone as we were expecting them to be using apps on their phones.

With everything in place and 11 participants recruited I had a 30 minute call with each of them to explain what the study was about, get them all set up and get a better understanding of their current lifestyle and goals.

These conversations were really interesting and gave me a good understanding of where all my participants were at in the process. But they were also really hard. I had to explain what we wanted them to do, without being too prescriptive. If I was too prescriptive there would be the danger that we might miss something that they did not think we would want to know about, but might be very interesting to the study.

With the calls all done the participants were ready to start recording their activities, and I could start to log their activities as they came through, making sure to tag them as we went.

Our study ran for two weeks, so I had to keep an eye on the participants to make sure they were recording the sorts of things we were interested in, answer any questions they had, make sure they were still participating and organise incentives.

Once they were all done I had another 30 minute call with everyone to check they were okay, see if their lifestyle and goals had changed and thank them for their time.

With all the data in and my findings written up I passed it back to Laura, the project lead, who ended up making posters for each participant with their biggest pain points. Printed out and stuck on the wall they really helped to show our client the issues their customers were having.

Key learnings: Make sure you know what you need to find out but do not be too prescriptive. Leave enough time every day to deal with all the data coming in, and enough time after the study to really understand what you found out.

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