Diary Studies Frequently Asked Questions

What is a diary study?

A diary study is a UX tool that provides user feedback over time. It’s called a diary study because users are asked to document their experiences engaging with the interface/product over a period of time.

A traditional diary study engages users in writing down their experiences. These days, media is often incorporated into diary studies, in which users post video or photos, to show as well as tell what activity they are doing at the time of the posting.


How is a diary study different from usability testing?

A diary study is a type of longitudinal research. The timeframe could be days, weeks, or longer. A usability study is a snapshot in time. The most common use of usability testing is to understand the user’s first-time exposure to the product.

In contrast, a diary study provides a way to understand the user’s experience from first-time exploration to in-depth experience. As users learn the features of a product, initial impressions may change. A diary study shows what users think and feel as they get to know the product. And it shows them using the product in their own natural settings.


When is the best time to do a diary study?


A diary study is most often used after a product has launched, or when it is at the Beta stage of development, which means it has enough robustness to allow users to engage with the product in real-world activities.


How do you set up a diary study?

 Diary studies are primarily qualitative research, but specific questions can also be created to get scaled rating responses for some quantitative analysis.

Mobile devices lend themselves very well to diary studies, as they are used by the target audience throughout the day, every day. If the goal of the study is to understand how an app works for a user on one or more mobile devices, a diary study provides users’ day-in-the-life experience in the context of use.

One way to set up a diary study is to make it completely open-ended, asking participants to post comments about their use of the product every day or several times a week. However, most diary studies want to learn specific things about the users’ experience, so a more structured prompt can focus on a particular type of feedback expected. In other cases, participants may be asked to record incidents identified by the team and provide feedback whenever a critical incident occurs. Still another approach is to set specific times of day in which participants should record diary entries, such as first use of the product, use of the product during a meeting, and use of the product after work.

The method chosen will be based on the goals of the study.


What is an example of a diary study?


As part of a multi-phased research study of an application to support students, teachers, and administrators in scheduling their time and tracking the status of the school and after-school activities, UX Firm developed a diary study to learn how students used the application on their computer and on their mobile devices.

We sent prompts several times a week over a 2-week period to get responses based on activities students were engaged with while using the application. We suggested that they share photos and video clips to show us where they were when they were doing the activity.

We collated all of the findings and categorized them into themes that we presented to the development team, which, when coupled with other data gathering techniques, including usability testing, provided a rich picture of the ways in which the application was being used.

Contact UX Firm to learn how diary studies can provide insights to your development team.