How A Journal Can be a Powerful Design Research Tool

November 07, 2017
by Chelsea Mills



Journal2.jpeg

Journaling is a great way to collect in-depth data on a participant’s experiences. This post will take you through some of the benefits and drawbacks of journaling, and some tips on how you might use journals in your own research.

As with any research tool, there are a few things to take into consideration before deploying it to ensure you’re collecting useful data.

BENEFITS OF USING A JOURNAL AS A DESIGN RESEARCH TOOL

1. RICH INSIGHTS

Collecting data from a single participant at multiple points in time provides a fulsome picture of that person’s life. It's not as time intensive for the researcher as interviewing, and some folks are more willing to share words on a page over talking about things in person.

2. FLEXIBLE FOR RESEARCHERS

It's easy to make a few lo-fi copies by handwriting some questions in a notebook, or you can have a graphic designer work up a custom notebook and print a bunch of copies. You can use journaling to conduct research at varying levels of specificity. They can be used to delve into a very narrow problem space or capture the breadth of someone’s experience.

3. FLEXIBLE FOR PARTICIPANTS

Participants don’t need to fill out the entire journal, and they can choose to write freeform about their day or answer specific questions. They can also draw, write poetry, add photos they’ve taken or cut from a magazine. It doesn’t have to be a physical book either. You can get them journaling on their smartphone, tablet, or through their own private blog or vlog.

💡 Include a few open pages in case people have other things they want to share. People appreciate this flexibility and might be frustrated if they want to report some part of their experience, but the journal doesn’t allow it.

 

CHALLENGES OF USING A JOURNAL AS A DESIGN RESEARCH TOOL

1. JOURNALING RELIES ON SELF-REPORTING

The participant is sharing from their own perspective, so they may not notice important insights because they take many elements of their life for granted. In an ideal project, this type of research is supplemented with observation or any observable/countable data that can elaborate on what you see in the journal.

2. JOURNALING IS TIME INTENSIVE

Journaling can be quite time intensive for both researchers and participants. The creation of the journal, the handoff, the debrief interview, the analysis, and any check-ins all add up to a lot of time.

3. JOURNALING ISN'T FOR EVERYONE

Journaling generally relies on the desire and ability of people to write at length about their experiences—it definitely isn’t for everyone. Using journals as your only research tool could mean missing input from important stakeholders. Think about how to capture input from people who don’t fit into this category.

 

When it comes time to make the journal, give participants a journal that feels:

  • Personal,
  • Important, and
  • Interesting 

 

Don't forget to support participants throughout the journaling process with regular check-ins and support.

More Design Research Methods:

 

📚  6 Street Team Tips For Impactful Public Research

📚  How to Use an Empathy Map

📚 Using Ethnography in Design Research Can Unearth Problems You Never Knew Existed

 

Posted in: Design, Design Research, Tools, Engagement

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