Uncovering Context With Mobile Diary Studies
Mobile user research cannot afford to be confined by physical space. People are on the move and research should meet users where they are.
Mobile user research can no longer afford to be confined by physical space and geographic boundaries. People are on the move. If we as researchers are to to understand their true behaviors, we need a robust toolset to meet them where they are and understand where they are going.
We are constantly working to improve our understanding of users. Our user research methodologies include rapid ethnography, participatory design, prototyping, usability testing, diary studies and everything in between. Yet not one of them is used the same way today as it was five years ago. In order to better understand emergent user behavior, we must evolve traditional research methods and keep pace with the changing technological landscape.
Recently, Punchcut has been exploring new ways of leveraging the age-old diary study from a mobile user research context. In general, we run diary studies alongside other contextual research methods, including contextual inquiries, interviews and shadowing. Diary studies augment the grounded viewpoint of contextual methods with a more intimate look into participants’ attitudes towards technology. In rethinking the methods surrounding diary studies, we sought a way to simultaneously reveal contextual influences while becoming more tactical about eliciting how participants reported their behaviors.
The following five insights encapsulate our efforts to better capture contextual information in real-time. We believe these insights can provoke innovations and improvements on how we approach user research.
Empower users to capture their life where it happens, as it happens.
Context is a source of implicit user data. Uncover it.
With the research tools available now, we can build more intelligence into how we collect data without intruding unnecessarily on participants' privacy. Methods such as careful randomization of prompts and variable reminder schedules that catch users at different times of the day can add richness to the data that users explicitly provide. Even looking at a participant's public social media output can add another dimension through which to analyze user feedback.
Capture the richness of communication.
A voice-based diary study captures the richness of verbal communication. When participants speak rather than write their entries, their feedback takes the form of stories and full scenarios. People are conversational when talking in a way that gets lost in writing. We can hear the emotion and nuances in their speech, and can consider the depth of descriptions that are full and vivid. By using the appropriate tools and methods, it is easy to turn qualitative feedback into quantitative data. The way people tell their stories is as important as the content of their stories.
Don't exclude participants unnecessarily.
The reality of timing and budgets forces many limitations on user research. In designing for consumer products, we are working with a user base that typically includes a wide variety of people. They differ in when, where and how they use their devices. Studies in the environment often exclude certain people simply by nature of the devices or contexts that are part of the study. By finding creative ways to adjust our toolset, we can gain efficiency and help our studies become more representative. We continue to evolve our research methods to make it as easy as possible for users to supply feedback in natural and convenient situations using devices that they already have, know how to use, and have readily available. We believe it’s important not to exclude valuable participants just because they don’t have the right equipment or feel burdened by contributing.
Innovation is affordable.
The barrier for improving user research methods is low. Significant improvements can be made easily because the tools for advancing much of our research are readily available at low cost. This lets us build custom tools quickly to match the specific needs of a particular study. Because of the reduced overhead in developing new tools, we are able to allocate more time to designing the study, spend more time with our participants, and analyze more thoroughly the data collected.
User research can enlighten design by illuminating behaviors, use cases and environments that are not always understood by the researcher or the participant. Punchcut is continually refining our research methods to meet the demands of streamlined projects and uncover emergent user behaviors. We strive to synthesize not only what users say, but what they do, and increasingly what their environment can reveal implicitly. Guided by established and perpetually evolving techniques, our user research provides companies with dynamic insight into the shifting contexts of mobility.