Cultural Probes

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Cultural probes are objects or strategies that enter into the everyday existence of ‘the other’. They then generate content and feedback around a particular focus, area of interest or subject.┬áThese can then inspire different ideas and play a vital part of the design process.

Types of Cultural Probes

There are many types of cultural probe. Although usually they would consist of some common objects:

  • A container
  • Camera
  • Drawing materials (felt pens, crayons, coloured pencils, pens, pencils etc)
  • A notebook
  • Journal
  • Diary
  • Map
  • Stickers
  • An instruction manual

They usually are meant to be used over a period of time and in a particular context. This would be covered in the instruction manual provided. You can provide subjects with different types of cultural probe and a way in which they must use them, they can then provide feedback that will help you better understand their thoughts, feelings, value and culture. As an example, you could provide people with a journal and set them a range of daily questions that they must write down answers to. The information that is retrieved can provide first-hand evidence for a theory or product in development or gain additional insight. There are obviously far more exciting and unique ways to use a cultural probe in the design process, so it is a good idea to research the different methods out there.

Learning More

As mentioned, there are some very simplistic ways to use some kind of cultural probe in your design process – there are also some very elaborate methods too. There are plenty of resources out there that can help you create ways of using these ideas, along with how to break down the information you’ve received.

cultural probes

Other inspiration for cultural probes

For more information about design research methods then you might find this book useful Universal Methods of Design: 100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas, and Design Effective Solutionscultural probes

A list Apart article on Cultural Probes. Available at <>. Accessed Jan 2012.