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Cultural Probes

The method cultural probe is a design-led approach to understanding users that stressed empathy and engagement. Probes are collection of evocative tasks aiming to elicit inspirational responses from people – not comprehensive information about them (Gaver 1992). The aim is to get fragmented clues about the peoples lives and thoughts. In this method, people are given a package of things inspiring them to collect a diverse set of data about their lives. In these packages maps, postcards, disposable cameras, photo albums and media diary can be included (Gaver 1992). The maps can be used to explore users’ attitudes towards their environment. Here different maps can be used, one over the whole world where users can mark where they have been, one local map over their neighbourhood where they can mark zones showing where they go to meet people, where they go alone, where they would like to go but can’t and so forth. The postcards are used because they are an attractive medium for asking informal questions in a friendly mode. The questions are written in the back of the postcards and are formulated such as, please tell us a piece of advice or insight that has been important for you, what do you like or dislike about the place you live in, tell us about you favourite device. The disposable cameras could be used to collect contextual data. One way to do that is to request for specific pictures such as their home, what they will wear today, the first person they saw that day, something boring. It is also good to leave some of the pictures unassigned to encourage users to photograph what they want to show (Gaver 1992).

The last two items in the probe can be a photo album and a media diary. In the photo album, the users are requested to use 6-10 photos to tell their story. They can use pictures from the past, their families, their current lives, or anything they find meaningful. In the media diary, the users can be asked to collect data about their usage of different media, such as television, radio, mobile-phone, computer etc. The entries were made daily for a total of a week (Gaver 1992). The focus of cultural probes is not to analyse the data precisely and carefully control methodologies, instead the aim is to concentrate on cultural implications of a future design and ways to open new spaces for design. Using cultural probes means to embrace subjectivity and personality since the aim is to become inspired, not informed about a particular event (Gaver 1992).

Read more: 

Gaver, W. 1992. The Affordances of Media Spaces for Collaboration. Paper read at Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, CSCW'92, at Toronto, Canada.