Skip to content

What: The user documents his/her actions and emotions. Working with diaries is a form of passive observation. The documented information constitutes what has to be observed.

When: You work with diaries to better understand how the user experiences a product or service over a given period of time.

Advantages: The user can act in his/her own environment, separate from the researcher’s. The data you obtain covers a longer period of time.

Some common diary techniques:
• Written diary with pre-printed table to fill in: rather quantitative results
• Diary as a basis for an interview
• Day in the life diary: the respondent inputs his/her data (writing, video, dictation, photos, etc.)
• Video diary: the respondent records what he/she does, thinks and feels
• Blog or twitter diary: The user updates his/her status regularly with text or using short sentences

Types of data:
1. Primary data includes the ‘when’ data (date and time, duration), and the ‘what’ data (tasks, feelings and moods, environments and settings).
2. Secondary data answers the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. Even though more difficult to process, this data is at least as significant as the ‘when’ and ‘what’ data.

Methodology
Preparation: Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I want to receive open or closed data?
   Closed data: structured data, rather quantitative; open data: rather qualitative
   Both require a different approach with regard to preparation and processing. Set aside the necessary time for that.
- Do I do want to collect the data in real-time and/or afterwards?
  The more you capture data ‘in the moment’, the more that data will answer the ‘when’ and ‘why’ questions. It is also easier to intervene and make adjustments when in real time.
- Which media do I want to use?
  Everything is possible: pen and paper, software, video camera, camera, etc. Keep in mind that the medium will affect the behaviour of your respondent. Now think of how you want to process the data.
- Which topic do I want to investigate?
  Think about the activity that is the subject of your research or the problem to be solved. Which people and which resources are involved in this endeavour? What is the context of the problem?

Create a scenario to help conduct the research and define the behaviour of the individuals involved. Organise the practicalities regarding location, number of test subjects, logistics, remuneration, and if necessary, intellectual property. Also be sure to clearly explain what you are using the data for.

Diaries
Stage 1: Preparation of the diary
Allow the user to fill in the diary using the chosen medium. At this stage, the involvement of the researcher is usually very limited. Depending on the medium, the researcher can plan to get interim feedback to already process part of the data. However, processing takes place afterwards in most cases. The more the researcher intervenes, the more this affects the result.
Stage 2: Interview (optional)
Plan a debriefing with the user to further discuss the results obtained and acquire insights. The information obtained will be richer and more detailed. You can approach this stage in a less structured way. Ask questions and, above all, let the subject talk.

Analysis of the results
Process the data obtained. You can keep the rather quantitative data in the form of lists. Rather qualitative data has to be translated. Start by reducing everything to a common denominator in an affinity diagram.

*The basic principles (based on Boon Yew Chew, Sapient Nitro, The Research Thing 25/05/2011 http://www.slideshare.net/jaremfan/diary-studies-a-primer)