Waiting experience: A diary study

Overview of the project

As an important practice of ethnographic research in the UX field, UX design students at Humber were assigned to conduct a diary study, which can help students develop skills of gaining insights into participants’ experiences, identifying problems and uncovering new opportunities.

Students were divided into groups of 4-5 team members. A scenario was given. Students went through the whole phases of the research, from planning, data collecting, analyzing to presenting the results.

This blog post serves as the final research report and reflections of this project.


Organization Y creates educational media for children. They’ve recently decided to expand their user base by creating short educational media for young adults.

You’ve been hired by the company to help them understand people’s current behaviour, emotions, and experiences of waiting (e.g., waiting for a bus, waiting for food, waiting for a friend, etc.). The findings from this research will help them identify ways to improve people’s wait experiences and will help inform both the type of media they create as well as how it’s consumed (e.g., interactive, games, video, articles, etc.)

Research process

1. Planning study

Firstly, we defined the goal of this study. We decided to focus on understanding two aspects of the waiting experience: behaviours and emotions. We then turned this goal into a research question to guide our efforts as we create the study. Therefore, the research question we wanted to answer is: “What are the behaviours and emotions that shape people’s waiting experience?

Secondly, we determined the details of the study, including participants, length of the study, sampling frequency (frequency of entry submission), the prompts, instructions and all the questions.       
Figure 1. Snapshots of the diary entry form
Finally, before the formal launch of the study, we determined each member’s role and responsibilities while the study is running. Each of group member was assigned one participant to monitor and communicate with, as needed. All technologies using in the study (google forms, recurring emails) were also tested to ensure they all function well prior to the real study.

2. Running study

Once the study formally launched, a URL link of the entry form was sent out to all participants. All group members can also access to the online form to review participant’s responses.

After the study started, I contacted my participant to make sure he understands the instruction and knows how to contact me if he has questions. During the 3-day study period, I kept tracking the responses from my participant three times every day. I reviewed all his entries and take notes for inappropriate or unclear responses. I would also remind the participant of submitting more entries if he didn’t meet the minimal requirement (3 entries) of everyday submission.

3. Analyzing data

3.1 Reviewing the data

At this phase, I reviewed all the responses for two multi-choices questions (reasons of waiting and activities while waiting), double confirmed the results and fixed some miscalculations. I also reviewed all responses for open-ending questions, making sure there was no inappropriate or unusable responses.

 3.2 Creating data charts

Having the data cleaned, I created the charts for two multi-choices questions to present the patterns across participants. As can be seen from the Figure 2, the most frequent reason for waiting is waiting for food, either for ordering food or cooking food. Figure 3 are two photographs submitted by our participants depicting these moments. The second and third main reasons of waiting include waiting for a friend/person and for transportation.
Figure 2. Frequency of responses on the reasons of waiting
Figure 3. Two photographs showing the moment of waiting for food
As regards activities while waiting, according to Figure 4, the most popular things people would do is “using their mobile phone”, followed by “checking out surroundings”. The third and forth activities are “listening to music” and “eating/drinking” respectively.
Figure 4. Frequency of responses on the activities while waiting

3.3 Affinity diagramming

In order to better identify the themes and trends in the data, especially from those open-ending questions, we as a group conducted affinity diagramming to further analyze the data.

First, we put out key points of information from the data and wrote each one individually on post-it notes. We chose to colour-code the data by using different-coloured post-it notes for each type of data: reasons of waiting are orange, activities while waiting are yellow, feelings are pink, thoughts are blue.
Figure 5. Putting out key points and writing them down on post-it notes
Once all the post-it notes are created, we divided the notes among the team members. Then, taking turns, we posted each note to a blank poster. When there was duplicated notes, we combined them together. When
there are similar notes, we placed them as a cluster. During the period of sorting, we kept discussion and tried to identify emerging patterns as we were sorting the notes.

Because we have had the statistical results for the reasons of waiting (Figure 2), we basically sorted them based on their frequency. Similarly, we also sorted their behaviours (activities) based on the frequency (as shown in Figure 4).

As regards emotions, we identified a full spectrum of the emotional status. Therefore, we sorted all emotions based on their valence from negative-, neutral-, to positive-emotions.
Figure 6. Conducting affinity diagramming
We spent most of our time in grouping participants’ thoughts and trying to identify the patterns across participants. After regrouping the notes for several times and discussing back and forth among group members, we finally identified seven themes. At the same time, these themes can be placed on a timeline (past-present-future), adding one more dimension to the diagram.

The following figure is the final diagram we created. All themes will be discussed in details in the following section.
Figure 7. The completed affinity diagram
In order to better present the diagram, I created a high-fidelity version of the diagram as follows. It is noted that in this high-fidelity version, due to the limited space, not all raw data points were included, only some of the representative data points were selected to present.
Figure 8. The high-fidelity version of the affinity diagram

Themes and reflections

In current project, we employed a diary study to investigate adults’ behaviours and emotions while they are waiting. We found that the most frequent reason for waiting is waiting for food, either ordering food or cooking food. When people are waiting, a dominant activity they would do is to use their mobile phone, and majority of them would experience unpleasant feeling during the waiting period. In addition, we also identified seven common themes across participants with regard to the thoughts that go through people’s mind when they are waiting. Among these seven themes, majority of them represent something related to the very moment of waiting, while few of them involves people’s past experience or plans for near future. Seven themes with brief descriptions are as follows

1.    Flashback
Some old memories may come back to people’s mind when they are waiting.  

2.    Media
More than one third of the behaviours during people’s waiting involves a particular kind of media, e.g. music, video, and TV. In general, these media can intensively attract people’s attention and fully occupy their minds.

3.    Ambivalence in decision making
People tend to make the best use of their waiting period. Therefore, they may need to make decision to either do something else at the same time so that they can use their time productively, or to totally avoid the situation of waiting.

4.    Personal Health
As the study was conducted in December in Toronto and the outdoor temperatures were already below zero, if people were waiting outside (e.g. for bus), it is natural for them to have concerns about their health in such a cold weather.

5.    Timing
The worst part of waiting is its uncertainty in terms of timing. People always wonder how long the waiting will last, whether it will end soon, whether the bus/train will be on time/late, and so on.

6.    Planning around school/work
As people spend more time on work than leisure in general, it is fairly easy for people to think about their work/assignments even when they have a small amount of spare time (when waiting for something).

7.    Future plans
It is not uncommon that people take advantage of their waiting time to make a little planning for the rest of the
day or for the near future.

All in all, current findings present a rough picture of people’s behaviours, emotions and thoughts when they are waiting and basically answer the initial research question we were asking. However, if we want to “identify ways to improve people’s wait experiences”, “inform both the type of media they create” and “how it’s consumed”, further researches are definitely needed. For example, based on what we have found in this study, for the next step, we should further investigate how the usage of a media influence people’s emotions or thoughts, and what the motivations/pain points/desires are when people consume a certain type of media. These questions could be answered by conducting follow-up interviews and even contextual enquiry studies. One of the possible final deliverables for the project could be the user journey map.

Current project provides a great opportunity for us to develop ethnographic research skills. The process flow of this study went smoothly. Our group didn’t encounter any significant difficulties or problems when conducting the study. Participants were very cooperative. There were also productive collaborations among group members throughout each phase of the study. I personally had a great experience doing this project.
Appendix    Instructions and prompts for the diary submission. 

Thank you for participating the current study, which helps us understand the behaviour and emotions while people are waiting.
The study will run for 3 days, starting from Dec 9 (Saturday) and ending on Dec 11 (Monday). During this period, you are asked to submit an entry every time you are waiting, and to submit 3-5 entries per day. The questions with the red asterisk (*) are mandatory.
It is advised to take a photo while you are waiting, and you are encouraged to submit it.  You must take the photo before filling out the form or else you would not be able to upload it.

(1) Why were you waiting? Choose all that apply.
❏     Waiting for a friend/family member/other person
❏     Waiting for transportation (ie. Bus, Subway, Train, Taxi/Uber)
❏     Waiting for food
❏     Waiting for class
❏     Waiting for an appointment
❏     Waiting for an event/concert
❏     Other ____
(2) What were you doing while waiting? Choose all that apply.
❏     Eating/Snacking
❏     Listening to Music
❏     Using Mobile Phone
❏     Watching/Checking out Surroundings
❏     Reading
❏     Doing Assignments/Work
❏     Other ____
(3) What were you feeling while waiting?
(4) What were you thinking while waiting?
(5) Please upload one photograph depicting your waiting experience.
COPYRIGHT © 2018 Jessie (Yuan) Deng