Diary Studies

Diary studies are an excellent research method for finding in-depth, qualitative data about the user experience (UX). Researchers collect data about user behaviors, activities, and experiences over an extended period of time. It is a versatile method that provides data as specific or broad as necessary and works well at different points of user research.

What Is a Diary Study?

In diary studies, Blink researchers ask participants to do one of two things:

  1. Make diary or journal entries about their experiences with digital products or services
  2. Make diary or journal entries about non-digital areas of research interest over a specific time

Research participants record significant events, behaviors, activities, problems, emotions, or feelings, including external factors that impact their product use or experience.

A diary study follows the participants for a longer time than a simple lab session. While you may be able to record and watch session replays in that environment, it only captures the participant's thoughts and behavioral patterns for that short period. With the user data from a diary study, you can have a more cohesive and complete view of their experiences over time.

Most diary studies we lead today involve digital diaries or similar online qualitative research (OQR) tools, and Blink has developed its own diary platform called FeedbackPanel, which enables entries from any device that can run a web browser in real-time. Researchers can also use FeedbackPanel to deploy surveys or other feedback forms.

Our UX team often gives participants in diary studies exercises or assignments and asks them to upload relevant supporting files. These files might include photos, screenshots, or audio or video recordings in addition to the text-based diary entries. With the additional materials, we can gather more data if, for instance, they run into a usability issue or find a unique way of interacting with your product.

Blink researchers use several techniques and best practices to ensure that participants are highly engaged in diary studies :

  • Onboarding calls in which we carefully explain expectations and study goals
  • Setting requirements on levels of engagement, such as at least five entries per week to receive monetary incentives
  • Ongoing researcher (and client) monitoring of diary entriesWithin-diary messaging to ask for clarification or elaboration or to provide encouragement
  • Regular participant “assignments” or tasks to be completed around a research question or focal point
  • Debriefing calls or online conference meetings at the end of the diary period with selected participants to better understand diary inputs

We often mix diary studies with other user research methods. For example, we may run a diary study before conducting field studies to better understand participants and their contexts of use. With this information about the types of users participating and their customer experiences, we can maximize the value of spending additional time with them. We can conduct any further UX research or usability tests with the most relevant and engaged participants.

Conversely, we may interview people first and then ask them to engage in a longer-term diary effort so that they can self-report and add to our user interview “snapshot.” We also use diary studies to identify the most promising or engaged participants in a study from a larger initial group to maximize the research value given limited resources.


The Impact of Diary Studies on Product Development

Participants in diary studies provide valuable qualitative input and feedback, ideally when they are actually using products or services in real-life settings. This adds to their in-the-moment realism. Analyzing user behavior with this research technique offers a better image of natural, real-use scenarios.

Diary studies allow us to:

  • Gather qualitative data about the user experience. Qualitative and quantitative data differ in the types of results they create. Quantitative research yields numbers and statistics, while qualitatively researching generates data that includes traits and characteristics. Qualitative user research provides information about the experience and user interface that can direct product development. Combining quantitative and qualitative user tests is often the best way to achieve a high return on investment (ROI) on a study.
  • Collect information about the user's behavior over a long period. Participants may find new ways to use your product, especially if they have to find workarounds to address problems or deficiencies. Collecting user data about their behavior on your website or program allows you to make appropriate changes that correspond with your research results.
  • Narrow down audience needs. With the behavioral data we can gather from individual users, we can readily create user personas that identify key concerns and pain points.

Recent Blink UX diary projects include:

  • A study focusing on wearable hardware comfort over time
  • A longitudinal study of an online fantasy gaming platform
  • A study involving the use of a beta application for new mothers
  • A home media study involving the self-reporting of gaming activities along with movie, TV, internet, and music consumption
  • A study surrounding productivity uses of different device types

Working With Blink

At Blink, diary studies are just one of the many user research methods we use for collecting data about your product. Conducting the best study can vary based on the needs of your business and your goals. Get in touch with us today to learn more about how Blink's UX analytics can improve your design process.

Are you interested in running a diary study?

Say hello

Related Content

Dear Digital Diary A Powerful Tool in User Research

5 min

Dear (Digital) Diary: A Powerful Tool in User Research

These days, diary studies can be much richer and more flexible by taking advantage of digital, connected technologies. At Blink we’re developing a suite of internal digital tools that help researchers and designers be more effective; one of these tools is our Digital Diary.

A photo from a workshop about enterprise product design. Several conference-goers collaborate on an activity guides by a Blink's Chief Design Officer, Geoff Harrison

5 min

9 Tips for Bringing Mobile UX to the Enterprise

If you—a business analyst, solutions architect, IT project manager—have limited UX resources or experience but need to design a mobile experience for your internal applications, we’re here to help with nine handy tips.