User Diaries

User Diaries: Gaining Deep Insights Through Longitudinal User Research

User diaries are a qualitative research method used in UX design to gain in-depth insights into users’ behaviors, experiences, and interactions with a product over an extended period. By asking participants to record their thoughts, activities, and experiences in a diary format, designers can collect rich, contextual data that helps inform design decisions and improve user experiences.

What are User Diaries?

User diaries, also known as diary studies or diary methods, involve participants documenting their daily experiences and interactions with a product or service. This can be done through written entries, voice recordings, videos, or photos. The goal is to capture real-time, authentic data about how users engage with a product in their natural environment, providing a longitudinal perspective on user behavior.

Importance of User Diaries in UX Design

  1. Rich Contextual Data: User diaries provide detailed insights into users’ daily routines, contexts, and environments, revealing how a product fits into their lives.
  2. Longitudinal Insights: By collecting data over time, user diaries uncover patterns and trends in user behavior that may not be evident in short-term studies.
  3. Authentic Feedback: Participants record their thoughts and experiences in real-time, providing honest and unfiltered feedback.
  4. User-Centered Design: Understanding users’ experiences and pain points helps designers create more user-centered solutions that address real needs.
  5. Improved Product Development: Insights from user diaries can inform product development, leading to features and improvements that enhance user satisfaction and engagement.

Key Steps in Conducting a User Diary Study

  1. Define Objectives: Clearly outline the goals of the diary study. What specific aspects of the user experience do you want to understand? Define the scope and duration of the study.
  2. Recruit Participants: Select participants who represent your target audience. Ensure they are willing and able to commit to the study duration and provide detailed entries.
  3. Create a Diary Template: Develop a template or guide for participants to follow. Include prompts or questions to help them focus on relevant aspects of their experience.
  4. Provide Instructions: Offer clear instructions on how participants should record their entries. Explain the frequency of entries (e.g., daily, weekly) and the types of information to include.
  5. Collect Data: Monitor the progress of participants and collect their entries regularly. Ensure they are consistent in their recording and provide comprehensive data.
  6. Analyze Findings: Review and analyze the diary entries to identify common themes, patterns, and insights. Use qualitative analysis techniques to interpret the data.
  7. Report and Act: Summarize the findings in a report, highlighting key insights and recommendations. Use the insights to inform design decisions and improve the product.

Best Practices for User Diary Studies

  1. Keep it Simple: Make the diary-keeping process as easy as possible for participants. Provide clear templates and straightforward instructions.
  2. Ensure Consistency: Regularly check in with participants to ensure they are consistently recording their entries and addressing the study’s objectives.
  3. Encourage Detail: Ask participants to provide detailed and specific entries. Encourage them to include context, emotions, and reflections on their experiences.
  4. Use Multiple Formats: Allow participants to use different formats (written, audio, video) to record their entries, catering to their preferences and making it easier for them to participate.
  5. Respect Privacy: Ensure participants’ privacy and confidentiality. Clearly communicate how their data will be used and stored.
  6. Provide Incentives: Offer incentives or compensation to motivate participants and acknowledge their time and effort.

Tools for Conducting User Diary Studies

  1. Digital Diary Platforms: Tools like Dovetail, Reframer, and Indeemo provide digital platforms for participants to record and submit their diary entries.
  2. Survey Tools: Platforms like Google Forms and SurveyMonkey can be used to create structured diary templates and collect entries.
  3. Collaboration Tools: Tools like Trello and Notion can help manage and organize diary entries, making it easier to track progress and analyze data.
  4. Communication Tools: Use email, messaging apps, or dedicated platforms like Slack to communicate with participants and provide support throughout the study.
  5. Qualitative Analysis Tools: Software like NVivo and ATLAS.ti can help analyze qualitative data from diary entries, identifying themes and patterns.

Real-World Examples

  1. Fitness Apps: A fitness app like MyFitnessPal might use user diaries to understand how users incorporate the app into their daily routines, track their progress, and overcome challenges.
  2. Healthcare: Healthcare providers might use diary studies to gain insights into patients’ experiences with a new treatment or medication, tracking their symptoms, side effects, and overall well-being.
  3. E-commerce: An online retailer could use user diaries to understand customers’ shopping behaviors, preferences, and experiences over time, informing website design and marketing strategies.
  4. Travel Industry: A travel company might conduct a diary study to capture travelers’ experiences before, during, and after their trips, identifying pain points and opportunities for improvement.
  5. Productivity Tools: A company like Asana might use user diaries to explore how users interact with their productivity tools throughout the workday, uncovering insights to enhance functionality and user satisfaction.


User diaries are a powerful tool in UX research, providing rich, contextual insights into users’ daily interactions with a product. By capturing real-time feedback over an extended period, designers can uncover patterns and trends that inform more user-centered design decisions. Implementing best practices and leveraging the right tools ensures that user diary studies are effective and yield valuable insights that drive product improvements and enhance user experiences.

Ondrej Zoricak
Ondrej Zoricak