M’colleague Sai Mohan presented at Dot York about his experiences with digital diary studies. I should say ‘ours’ though – all of the Orange Bus UX team has been involved with running digital diary studies and in fact this talk was a revised version of a talk that I’d done with him at Newcastle’s UX Day last October.

All up, the consumerisation of smart devices¬†complete with cameras and social media apps means that there’s the opportunity to learn about user behaviour over time in a rich and meaningful way like never before. What’s more thanks to social media (*cough* Foodstragramming) people are actually used to documenting things in the moment and reporting on them – what seems like a quick action of adding a photo to Instagram is actually a long one (upload, filter, caption, send) but seems quick. And there are lots of apps available to do studies including Nativeye, Ethos, and Dscout.

However, there are some things to be aware of

  1. Recruiting is important, just as (if even more so) than for usability testing – you need to screen for the right people
  2. You’ll need to do some hand holding at the start to get them used to documenting in the way that you want, even just being able to install the app! Emails and online drop-in sessions help.
  3. However, it’s important to have strict rules of what they have do to e.g. one a day and then stick to them.
  4. There will be lots of data – the 2 week study with 15 people had 631 entries. And it’s not just click and point when it comes to analysing the data – you’ll probably have to do magic with spreadsheets and graphs.
  5. However, if you do a good job organising the data, the information can be so rich that you can keep referring to it even in other work with the client.

There were some questions about the time that a study may take both for a participant and to set up. Both really come down to choosing the right questions (not unlike Rick’s earlier talk) – the setup for a study can take a few days, as an ideal study shouldn’t involve more than 10 questions and have the balance of getting the information you need and not being so onerous and time consuming to do that people give up, even with a nice reward.

A writeup on the diary studies in general is available from orangeb.us/digitaldiary

A video of an earlier version of the talk is also available on youtube:


Vicky Teinaki is a user experience designer at Newcastle upon Tyne agency Orange Bus. She is also working on a PhD at Northumbria University about better ways of communicating design methods within the design industry.