Power of Diary Studies in UX Research

Summary: The power of Diary Studies in UX Research lies in their view of experience over time. Diary Studies are one of the most under-utilized and least understood UX techniques. Since they are a self-report technique, they need a corrective hack we introduce below (spike with a short user interview before the diary).

Diary Studies are where a user completes (usually digital these days) a diary or log multiple times. Diary studies typically last 1-2 weeks in corporate research. Throughout the diary study, a user is prompted to share, to evaluate a new or competitor product, or to log their “day in the life.”

Why Diary Studies?

In the fast-paced world of UX research, usability testing undoubtedly plays a crucial role. However, its limitations become evident when considering the aftermath of user interactions. Usability testing typically takes place within a controlled environment, lasting anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. But what about the “after effects” or latent issues that might surface over time? This is where Diary Studies come into play, bridging the gap between controlled environments and real-world usage.

Diary Studies empower researchers to understand the long-term user experience with a product or service. Unlike traditional usability testing, where participants are observed briefly, Diary Studies encourage users to “live with the product or service” and document their experiences over a more extended timeframe. This approach blends the insights of day-in-the-life ethnography with unscripted product usage, providing a holistic understanding of user behavior.

Here’s why Diary Studies are valuable:

  1. Detecting the Unseen: Diary Studies enable researchers to uncover nuances and issues that might go unnoticed in lab-based usability testing. Users might encounter challenges or unexpected experiences only after continuous usage. It’s for this reason diaries are a must in serious UX Research.
  2. Capturing Latent Usability Issues: Unlike traditional usability testing focusing on immediate interactions, Diary Studies capture usability issues that emerge over time. These latent issues can significantly impact user engagement, retention, and conversion.
  3. Intercepting Microexperiences: Microexperiences, those brief moments that users encounter during their interactions, often go unnoticed in traditional testing. Diary Studies allow these micro experiences to be documented, shedding light on aspects contributing to user satisfaction or frustration.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that Diary Studies do come with limitations. They rely on self-reporting, which can introduce biases and fragmented insights. Observing users in action remains the gold standard for understanding behavior. Careful study design, moderation, and deployment are essential to mitigate this limitation.

Moderation by a User Researcher is critical during diary studies. Setting up messaging (text, email etc) is one way to keep this going. Using a way to monitor engagement (digitally) is also a must with Experience Dynamics diary studies. The idea is to keep a finger on the pulse and understand the context of what is being shared (images, video, audio, text).

Power of Diary Studies vs. other User Research techniques

Diary Studies should not be seen as a replacement for established research methods such as user testing and ethnographic interviews. Instead, they should be considered complementary tools that enrich the user research toolbox.

User Testing: User testing provides valuable insights into immediate user interactions. It’s like taking a snapshot of user behavior during a specific task or scenario. However, it falls short when it comes to capturing the dynamics of prolonged usage. Diary Studies pick up where user testing leaves off, offering a more comprehensive understanding of the user journey over time.

Ethnographic Interviews: Ethnographic interviews, also known as field studies, involve observing users in their natural environment. This method offers deep insights into user behavior and context. While ethnographic interviews excel at understanding the big picture, Diary Studies zoom in on the user-product relationship, offering insights into micro-level experiences that might otherwise be overlooked.

Unveiling the Potential: A Webinar and E-book

We invite you to join our upcoming 45-minute webinar to bridge the knowledge gap surrounding Diary Studies. Learn how to harness their power to uncover hidden insights that drive user engagement, adoption, retention, and conversion.

This webinar will equip you with the essential skills to deploy, manage, and interpret Diary Studies effectively. Our complimentary e-book, “The Secrets of How to Get the Most Out of Your Diary Studies,” accompanies the webinar, providing in-depth guidance on leveraging Diary Studies for maximum impact.


Diary Studies stand as a testament to the evolving landscape of UX research. They offer a unique window into the user experience beyond the confines of lab settings and scripted tasks. By embracing Diary Studies, researchers can uncover latent issues, intercept microexperiences, and gain a comprehensive understanding of user-product relationships over time.

While Diary Studies require careful study design and moderation, their potential for revealing hidden insights cannot be overlooked. They are not a replacement for user testing or ethnographic interviews but a valuable addition to the researcher’s toolkit. As you embark on your journey to master Diary Studies, remember that the key lies in understanding their strengths and limitations and applying them strategically to elevate your user research game.

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