If you want to understand the realities of everyday life in 17th century London, there is no better starting point than Samuel Pepys’ diary. Researchers and designers know the power of diary studies, which is why they are a valuable tool to allow people to to conveniently express the events and details of their personal lives.This approach is a great way to accurately record behaviours and the rich context of those behaviours over time, allowing them to record feelings, thoughts and activities through the day, across the week or even over longer timeframes. Diaries are designed with instructions, examples and prompts to ensure that the most relevant information is recorded, and to make them convenient and portable to maximise the chances of compliance. For example, a diary may prompt participants for details whenever they engage in specific behaviours, use particular products or services or engage in relevant activities. Alternatively, prompts may be triggered at regular times of day or week to record a summary of a fixed period.
Typically each page of a diary would include a prompt or question, often using creative formats and increasingly digital technology to make tasks as easy and convenient as possible. Thus, while Samuel Pepys used pen and paper (and they are still commonly used), increasingly email, text, voice recording, picture and video recording and social media are being used through the use of phones, tablets, websites and apps. These technologies have enabled an increase in the recording of sketches, drawings, symbols, pictures and movies as well as textual information.
Diaries are a great tool for exploratory research, for example in capturing detailed profiles of participants media habits and TV watching. Even small samples can reveal common patterns of behaviour, helping develop hypotheses and providing direction for later confirmatory research.They are also a valuable tool for sensitising participants to a research topic before attending other research or even co-creation workshops.
Diaries are also great tools for collecting feedback on usability and customer experience, increasingly as part of the tasks of online communities run for specific brands or challenges.
Diaries are a great tool for understanding the contexts, emotions and realities of real-life behaviour, taking research into the real world.
Universal Methods of Design by Martin & Hanington