6 Things To Consider When Setting Up A UX Diary Study

4 min read
Ben Logan
Design Research

UX diary studies can be run in lots of ways depending on the subject, user group and the amount of time you have for the project. But what are the common things you need to consider when setting up your diary study? Find out in our in-depth guide to using diary studies in UX research projects.

What is a Diary Study?

A diary study is a form of user research where participants self-report their activities regularly in order to create data about their activities, attitudes and expectations. It is a research method often associated with UX and service design projects.

UX Diary Study Template

In order to create a template for a UX diary study, you can follow the process below.

1. Who are your participants?

How you run your study depends on who you’re recruiting and the topic of research. How you interact with 10 year olds will differ greatly to how you communicate with adults. Equally, the method of interaction needs to be simple and straight forward for both the participant and the researcher.

Whilst it’s nice to use a fancy programme with user log ins, you can risk losing out on important data by users forgetting their details. Generally we prefer to keep the user diary simple, using a dedicated mobile for text, and a dedicated email address for email entries.

2. Introductions & expectations

After taking the time to consider how much information you’ll need to get great UX insights from the research, it’s important to define a well structured introductory session with participants. This can be done individually, but equally focus groups work quite well. Usually these sessions take about 45 minutes to 1 hour and should include:

  • Introduction to the project aims and reason for this research
  • Key dates for contact and follow up
  • Contact details of main researchers involved for any questions
  • An example entry to use as best practice
  • A list of questions that each diary entry should cover
  • Clear explanation of minimum entry expectations e.g. at least 2 entries per week
UX diary study book introduction

3. Feedback & follow up

Even with the best instruction in the world, it’s important to feedback to diary study participants to reassure them that they’re doing the right thing or to give them guidance if they’re not. Be sure to set aside time at the start of the study to respond to participants entries. This also helps participants feel more engaged with the study by knowing there really is someone on the other side paying attention.

4. Activities

If diary studies go on for a few weeks (as we would usually recommend), it’s a great opportunity to consider some activities to make sure you get some specific information about a particular area. Activities allow you to focus on a particular area that’s important to your client such as the online check-out process, and can feed into your understanding of user attitudes, expectations and UX.

5. Monitoring

Time for monitoring diary studies can be underestimated. If you’re dealing with 20 or more participants, this can easily become a full time job for the duration of the study. Diary entries need to be monitored on a daily basis to ensure you respond to questions or probe for more detail whilst the entry is still fresh in their minds.

Before starting the study, decide what tags (e.g. device, location, activity type) will be applied to the data when uploading information to a spreadsheet. Deciding on this up front will make the monitoring process smoother in the long run.

This should go without saying, but allowing yourself enough time to read and digest each UX diary entry is vitally important when leading up to the analysis stage.

6. Analysis & Wrap up

If the project can allow it, leave yourself a few days to analyse the data and draw conclusions to validate in your wrap up sessions. Develop tools specifically for your user group and topic to help participants expand on their entries. Wrap up sessions can be done one-to-one or in groups depending on the sensitivity of the topic.

In summary, there is no one set way of running a UX diary study. Like any research project, it entirely depends on the who, the what and the why of the project brief. However, good time planning and organisation can help to make the user diary run smoothly, making it more enjoyable for both the participant and the researcher.

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