Using Diary Studies for Customer Journey Mapping

Coffee and Moleskine III from Lost in Scotland's Photostream

The launch of MyServiceFellow, a mobile phone application for capturing touchpoints, reminded me of a great case study from 2002 in a book called Web Site Redesigns. Author Darcy DiNucci, then a design director at Method, documented the initial design research phase for a travel website. It began with a combination diary and camera study for 50 travelers:

Method sent the travelers out with a kit designed to capture their experiences, plus $125 for their trouble. The kit consisted of a disposable camera and a survey book the traveler could use to record any aspect of the trip that seemed noteworthy, plus an instruction sheet telling each participant how to use them. Each traveler was asked to tell their own story of their experience of business travel. By taking pictures of places, objects and moments, each participant would reveal how he or she perceived the travel experience.

What was recorded was up to each participant — the experience would be documented through the travelers own eyes, not by answers to a set of questions posed by an outsider. For each picture taken the participant created an entry in the survey book, noting the date, time, place, and observations about their state of mind, the situation, and why they chose to take the picture. [DiNucci 39-40]

The book includes samples from the survey design and a collection of photographs and descriptions from the kits they received back from the study. Of course Method used this mainly as inspiration for the website rather than to re-design the customer journey as a project itself. But the techniques can be a great match for the needs of service designers.

For me these low-tech approaches are more appealing than the more recent examples of technology I’ve seen applied to the problem. For one thing, it just seems easier to manage for the participant. Paper doesn’t crash. There’s no software to learn or password to remember. It’s a notebook. You write in it.

Disposable cameras are simple to use but for one recent study I experimented with letting the participants use their own camera if they preferred. There’s no reason not to consider cameraphones since the quality has improved in recent years. But there’s something nice about giving the participant a set number of exposures with a disposable camera that they can stuff in an envelope when they’re done. No CDs to burn; no files to upload. I’m also keen to try the disposable video cameras that are coming to the market. For some projects Flip camcorders might even be appropriate for limited use within organizations.

Like all design research, recruitment is an important component. Method used an external recruiting service to identify their participants and just over half returned the kits.

Designers should be closely involved with the recruitment process. For instance, in the diary study I mentioned earlier I found the best respondents for a cooking and recipe study by contacting local food bloggers. I also structured the incentives so participants received half up front and half upon return (they sent all of the kits back). External agencies almost never work out well other than as a supplement. It takes time, but recruiting is important enough to handle yourself.

DiNucci’s book is out of print but used copies are available online for practically nothing. The case studies are primarily focused on website design but the book is worth it for the diary example alone. It’s a well-written, detailed case study that incidentally could serve as a model for service designers to follow when writing their own case studies.

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