DIARY STUDY: COMMUTING EXPERIENCE

Project Type

UX Design and Research

Project Output

Analysis Report and ‘Medium’ Blogpost

Project Length

1 week

TEAM

Husain Zaidi, Shubhangi Gupta, Yasir Hussain, Sunidhi Anand, Pegah Sargolzaei

MY ROLE and PROJECT SUMMARY

This research was aimed at exploring the user behaviors and experiences of commuters using public transportation and cab services in order to understand their emotions, needs, goals and experiences. The data collected by conducting diary studies of users in a specific scenario was processed to understand their pain-points, frustrations and identify the themes. Identifying the themes then allowed further exploration by establishing commonalities among the various characteristics of the themes. A total of six participants were recruited for providing diary entries for the purpose of this study. The data obtained were then analyzed through affinity diagramming in order to identify the themes based on certain aspects. Finally, the results were then summarized to reflect the outcome of the research and further explore the possible opportunities

I was involved in every step and stage of the project, taking the lead and coordinating between the team members. I came up with the initial project strategy and timelines and helped assign roles to different team members. As a team, we designed the diary study prompts and criteria for selecting our participants. I was also in charge of moderating the participants’ response while conducting the study and to also filter the data collected afterwards. We also did team activity of Affinity Diagramming, which I moderated, and as a team, we came up with the themes and opportunities extracted.

Scenario: CAR POOLING SERVICES

“Company Z is a Canadian ride hailing company that offers cab service, including peer-to-peer ridesharing services to its customers. They’ve recently decided to expand their services to bridge the gap between their existing ride hailing model and the Canadian Government public transit system (like TTC, YRT wtc). Their aim is to capture and serve a wider audience.
We’ve been hired by the company to help them understand people’s current behavior, emotions, and experiences around using cabs and public transit system. The fndings from this research will help them identify gaps between the existing services available to the public and recognize the opportunities to offer a better commute experience.”

Process and Methodology

For this research, the process played an important role in keeping us on track for creating the study in a systematic manner, thereby reducing the chaos! So, it all began with us being questioned about the construct of stating problems faced by TTC users when using cab services. With respect to this finding, we did a brief research in order to collect secondary data which would support our study. After considering all the findings, we concretized the purpose of our research in order to narrow down the scope of this study.

 

Once the purpose was defned, we did a brainstorming of questions which would direct our findings for the study i.e. the question prompt — which allowed us to examine and record data for the scenario that has been considered in this study. The participants were selected based on criteria selected and mentioned in the participant recruitment strategy.

 

The recruited participants were then asked to provide their responses based on the prompt which was provided to them. Needless to say, but, notes and observations made it possible for us to uncover minor details and interesting facts that we may have missed otherwise.

We got the data. The next step was to process the findings into usable information by filtering out irrelevant information and analyse the information found. The information was then processed through affinity diagramming in order to develop the underlying themes. These themes allowed for us to establish connections, find common problems and understand the behavioral aspects that affected the participant experiences in the defined scenario. The findings of the themes were then used to explore the possible ways in which the key issues could be resolved by understanding the common benefits, frustrations, needs and goals. The study was then summarized in order to reflect upon the findings.

Conducting Research

What are the opportunities to bridge the gap between the existing cab service and the public transit available to the frequent commuters?

To come up with the research question we first explored a multitude of questions pertaining to people’s experiences, behaviors, and emotions towards the way they commute right now. To help inform our study and ensure that we’ve covered all the important data points under the umbrella of our research goal, we made a question bank that should be a good starting point to frame our Prompt Questions for the participants. Some of the topics we wanted to be informed about through this study covers subjects matters like,

It’s also important to acknowledge that the scope of this diary study is not to have all of those questions answered. Realistically they can’t be answered through just one tool in a UX researcher’s quiver. In an industry setting, we’d be conducting other ethnographic research, contextual inquiry, user interviews, surveys, and group study to cover the entire spectrum of unanswered questions. Rather, the point of the diary study is to get insight into the user’s daily routine, their behaviors in their usual/natural setting, how they interact in the context and what influences their experience. Which brings us to our next step, the prompts of our diary study.

Diary Study Prompts

Keeping our overarching goal in mind, we wanted to be informed about the behaviors of ‘daily’ commuters (or frequent commuters) and their experiences and feelings with respect to their choices. Hence, we crafted our primary prompts around the ‘routine’ journey(s) of the participants; When they’re commuting from home to work in the morning, and when they’re commuting from work to home in the evening. However, to analyze diverse data points, our secondary prompt encouraged participants to fill in the diary entry for ‘every other time of the day when they’re commuting to anywhere else other than their routing home-work-home commute’. Hence, trips to the movie theatre, grocery shopping, attending an event etc could also be covered. 

 

Since our study were to be conducted for only 3 days, with 5–7 participants, that amount of data points collected would not be that huge in magnitude. However, that aligns with the ‘integrity’ or the true purpose of a diary study, Qualitative Data over Quantitative Data, or at least that was true in our case. So with the aim to focus on collecting qualitative data, rather than quantitative data, we framed most of our questions as ‘open-ended’. Here is what our Diary Study Instructions and Prompts looked like:

Participant Selection

The study required recruitment of participants who met the criteria for this study. The participants who agreed to take part in this study were chosen keeping
in mind various considerations such as:

 

  1. The participant should be either a student and/or a working professional who relies on public transport for their commute.
  2. They should be frequent or dailly commuters, who occasionally take a cab depending upon the need of the hour.
  3. They should be users of smartphones in order to provide their inputs and coordinate the fndings for the diary studies.

Henceforth, we developed two proto-personas in order to recruit participants:

Proto Persona A

  • The person does not have a set schedule of their commute and
  • their timings and frequency of travel vary greatly.
  • The person has a tight budget constraint.
  • The person primarily relies on TTC or other public transit system.

Proto Persona B

  • The person has a set schedule of commute (e.g. office timings) and doesn’t have many changes apart from occasional plans.
  • The person doesn’t have a tight budget constraint.
  • The person takes cabs frequently for commute.

Challenges Encountered

Collecting data from a study is just one part, but making sure that the data you collect is actually useful is another challenge. While reading up on theory of
conducting a participant-involved activity, we did not anticipate the kind of problems we would run into. But like most moderator-participant activity, things
don’t exactly as you plan. Here are a few of the problems we encountered along the way:

 

  • Participants forget and/or ignore to write and submit their diary entries.
  • On some occasions participants were not very interested and would only answer in one word.
  • Seldomly, participants overthink their responses when prompted with follow-up questions.
  • When conducting the study with participants who you know and are close to, follow-ups turn into conversations which steer off topic.

Synthesizing Data

After receiving the diary entries from all participants over 4 days of period, it was time to reflect on the data we had collected. But in order to do that, we had to go through a logical process.

Step 1: involved combining all the data into one single place, into a coherent format. For example, different participants will choose different means to submit their data (email, text message, WhatsApp, etc) which needs to be brought into a single platform. We used Google Sheets for this.

Step 2: required us to comb through the data and flter out all the unhelpful entries. (1 word answers, unanswered follow-ups etc)

Step 3: is the actual processing of the data and making sense out of it. All of the team members read through the entries of all the participants and asked and questions to the respective moderators of a participant entry if they had any query regarding it. We then conducted an ‘Affinity Diagramming’ activity with the team members, through which we were able to identify the emerging themes

Brainstorming - Affinity Diagram

We conducted the Affinity Diagramming as a team activity. We started by posting on the board all the observations on whatever each team members deemed ft, on an individual basis. We then as a group, categorized them into Behaviors, Positive Experiences, Needs, and Pain Points/Problems Encountered.

Once the stickies were categorized, we started looking for commonalities and patterns within each category to mark the first hint of any emerging themes.

Identified Themes

Upon finding those common patterns and reflecting on which category they belonged to, and their context of origin, we could really define the themes emerging from it. For example, the most stickies related to ‘time’ were found under ‘pain points/problems encountered’ suggesting that participants had most of their negative experiences with related to time, either in the form of waiting too long, or reaching late or travel time too much.

People are conscious of how much value they get for their money.

Through carefully analyzing the entries of participants for the studies, it has been observed that the matter of price is a point of friction for the users as they feel that the services presently being offered are not pocket-friendly but is, however, highly dependant on the situation that the users are subjected to.

For instance, person A may not like traveling daily by cab due to its high costs, but however if they are in a state of urgency, they would not mind spending extra money to reach on time.

Users also feel that the surge charges that they are subjected to are unreasonable and at times find it frustrating to pay for the services because they’re urgent
need.

People are more comfortable in their own space, with the known people.

Based on the narrative that all participants encountered difficulty while travelling by public transit and are subjected to physical stress, it may be observed that the users would prefer a medium of transport which offers them a more comfortable journey before starting their day at college or at work.

For example, participants acknowledged their ‘perceived’ time for the journey was much less when they travelled with their friends, they were more comfortable and could sleep or do their work when carpooling with a friend.

Participants have safety concerns with public transportation.

Certain participants also expressed their concerns of travelling through public transit (buses and cabs) in certain situations, such that they did not feel at ease while taking a nap on a bus/cab when travelling with strangers and/or while travelling at night, or walking from the bus stop to their home alone at night.

Users want flexibility and options to choose from.

The participants feel that they do not have many options to choose from when opting for an alternate mode of transport. There are many factors such as the

cost, modes and timings that affected their fexibility and have moderate to high impact on their decision making.

For example, participants indicated that they would like the option to choose whether they want to take a bus or a car, no matter what time it is, depending

on the weather or work load or how tired they are.

 

To save time, people are willing to spend a ‘little’ extra.

It has been observed that the participants wished for the commute time to be reduced so that they could utilize that time while travelling. It has also been
stated that the users fnd the public transport highly unreliable at times and describe the experience as frustrating when they encounter such an instance.
People also informed they often took cabs when they had to reach somewhere on time and they didn’t want to ‘risk’ it, admitting they were okay to pay a
little more to reach their destination faster.

Possible Opportunities

Based on the identified themes, behaviors, and needs of the participants we could identify the missed opportunities by the existing services in the market.

Here are some of the opportunities that can be tapped on during the design process of the new product by company Z, to cater to a wider audience and bridge the gap between the current cab services and public transit system.

  • Since users prefer the comfort and faster destination time of the car, but do not see their worth to the current market prices of cab services, the new product could connect non-professional drivers driving through the same route for car-pooling. The model could work by simply sharing the cost of the fuel on per km basis, shared by people hailing the ride.

    People are more comfortable sharing the ride with their known ones. The new product could also act as a platform for people to send invites to their friends who they know can share ride with them, or post about their route and needs and the people from the same zone can discover them. This way the whole monetization and incentivization of car-pooling can be handled by the Company Z, while helping people in connecting and discovering people.
  • The algorithm of matching users for carpooling could also be set to not accept invitations that require them to walk to a common point to be picked up, this can depend on user’s preference and can be chosen at an individual level. This way the users who’re concerned about safety and walking alone at night, can feel more confident while sharing the ride.
  • To address user’s need for flexibility and as-per-demand service availability, it could also be a good feature to let users post their requirements in advance for special case scenarios, so that the car owners with matching criteria can contact them, for example: the participant who needed to stay till midnight in college on friday, could post on thursday and she would be connected with someone for one-time sharing the ride with without having to spend high cab fees with surcharges.

Reflection: Our Experience

This study enabled us to process data into meaningful information which allowed us to understand the themes classified under categories. The information that has been obtained through this study has led us to understand that the research method of diary studies is, in fact, a reliable method which absorbs a fair amount of data and enables researchers to make assumptions that are more reliable and can certainly help to make fairly calculated assumption based on first-hand information collected from real-world users.

 

However, we feel that this study could have been enriched with more data had there been more participants, which could not be achieved in this study because of time constraints. For instance, employing a bigger number of participants would have allowed diversity in the qualitative data. There were useful learnings that were discovered with the help of this study. Following a pre-decided plan along and having a clearly defined purpose helped articulate and document the study in a methodical manner.

 

The data obtained from the users was filtered, analysed and then processed using the affinity diagramming exercise which helped us understand the behavioural aspects as well as the user needs, goals, frustrations, pain-points etc. Using the affinity diagramming activity, we grouped insights and discoveries into various groups such as needs, pain-points, behaviours and positive experiences. The findings among the categories were then sub-grouped on the basis of the various factors which underlined our themes. Themes pertaining to various factors such as money, safety, comfort,

flexibility and time were found as a result of the affinity diagramming activity. The framing of these themes allowed us to understand their relations with each other and allowed us to interpret the data to explore the possible solutions. We also found scope for opportunities upon identification of themes, behaviours and needs of the participants.

 

Conducting the study was challenging at some points but the challenges themselves are a great learning experience. Some minor difficulties with the participants such as overthinking, short or indescriptive answers, forgetfulness were the challenges faced while collecting the data for diary studies.

 

The information helped us to understand the situation and identify the gaps that exist between the user’s needs and their goals when choosing an alternative to commute via public transport. To round it up, the overall experience was really insightful and has motivated us to conduct studies in a better manner, incorporating the opportunities that we may have missed out on along with things that we feel have scope for improvement. If we were to take up this study for an official study, there would’ve been a plan of action to be taken as the next steps in order to guide the direction of the report. Had this study been assigned as part of a real-world project, we would have dived into finer aspects by conducting ethnographic studies, conducting interviews with people etc. in order to widen the scope of the study and discover associated issues that may have had a direct or indirect impact on the overall outcome of the study.

 

Art for Change

Art for Change is a non-profit initiative, started by Husain Zaidi in 2019. 

Our Vision 

The artworks created for Art for Change focuses on social and global issues, which are unfortunately ignored by our society. Through my art, I humbly hope to break the stigma around these issues and start a conversation which can make a difference in someone’s life. 

Our Mission 

All the sales generated through Art for Change is donated to a chairty of your choice! Through our combined effort, let us support the charibable organizations accross the globe to help make this world a better place to live.