When to Use Diary Studies
You can use diary studies at the following stages in a product development cycle:
- at the beginning of the design process—Diary studies help you to generate insights for initial ideation activities.
- at late-stage design iterations—During the development process, you can do diary studies once high-fidelity mockups or live code exist and the design is at a stage when users can use a prototype without needing guidance—for example, an online game after its beta launch.
- at the post-launch stage—When a product is already live and you need to do qualitative research to learn how and why participants are using certain features, do a diary study.
Diary studies are generally part of larger research initiatives. Sometimes researchers pair up this approach with larger quantitative data analysis methods to dig deeper into users’ particular behaviors, motivations, and perceptions. At other times, they serve as homework exercises and provide the basis for in-person research sessions.
What Format Works Best When Doing Research with Young Demographics?
Your choices include the following formats:
- paper diaries
- digital diaries, using
- mobile or personal computing platforms
- social networking platforms
- texts and email messages
Paper diaries can be fun to complete for younger kids, in the age range between 6 and 9 years of age. However, these need to be in the form of activity books, workbooks, or explorer journals that support journaling activities with which children are already familiar. They may contain additional elements that add fun to the experience such as stickers, badges, images, or arts and crafts materials.
Generally, using paper diary studies with young children is more effective in the generative stages of a product development process, when the design team is looking for insights with which to start an ideation process from scratch.
What you need to account for:
- children’s ages and their cognitive and physical abilities—For example, are they able to read or communicate by drawing? Before preparing the diary for a study, it is helpful to read about child development stages and get inspiration from the activity books children currently use at the different age ranges. This helps you to define the kinds of activities to include in a diary that would help to answer your team’s larger research questions.
- involvement of caregivers—Young kids would likely need to partner with their parents or caregivers to complete the study activities. Therefore, you need to plan for tasks and questions that involve both parents and children and can yield informative insights from both sides. You might also consider combining different activities for parents and children—for example, setting up email entries for parents, in combination with an activity book for the children.
- time constraints—Preparing paper diaries for children is time consuming. You need to allocate time for the preparation of tasks and activities, questions and instructions, book design and production.
- delivery of the materials—You should make it easy for participants to receive and send back the diaries and any additional materials to your research team. Generally, children get excited when a package arrives in their mailbox with their name on it—so if possible, try mailing the diary directly to the child.
You can conduct digital diary studies in a variety of formats. This is generally a good approach to use when working with children above 10 years of age, under the supervision of their caregivers. While these studies can be faster and more convenient to set up than paper diary studies, it can be challenging to obtain permission from parents to conduct a digital study with their children, because of privacy concerns and digital safety risks.
Therefore, it is imperative to keep parents or caregivers involved during all stages of the process. Here are some important guidelines to follow:
- Set up an in-person visit with the adults and children, and provide all of the necessary legal documentation, as well as proof that you are a researcher working for an established company. If possible, you should meet with them at the company’s headquarters or in a place where they feel comfortable meeting you.
- Describe what the project is about in depth, the activities that both parents and children would perform, how you’ll use the data that you obtain, and how you’ll communicate with the child and the adults throughout the process.
- If an older child can complete the diary by himself or herself, you should still be sure to keep parents involved. Let them know how the process is going and provide examples of the types of responses you are receiving from the child. In these cases, you can use other forms of research to include the parents’ perspective if it is relevant to a project—for example, interviews or surveys.
- Be sure to manage everyone’s expectations. How much involvement should parents have in a child’s completing the diary? How many times a day or week should they log entries and when? Let them know how the platform you are using works, too.
Now, let’s explore some of the formats you can choose to use when conducting digital diary studies.