Cultural Probes

| January 25, 2011

For those interested in design education I would like to share the work on Cultural Probes put forth by Bill Gaver, Tony Dunne, and Elena Pacenti. In an article published Interactions January – February 1999, Design: Cultural probes, they discuss their experiences working with a group of senior citizens to identify their needs for a new design initiative. Their objective is to provide a means for the users of the intended design project to gather information that can be incorporated into the design process, but not restrict or bias it in any way. To do so they initiated what they call “Cultural Probes”:

“The probes were part of a strategy of pursing experimental design in a responsible way. They address a common dilemma in developing projects for unfamiliar groups. Understanding the local culture was necessary so that our designs wouldn’t seem irrelevant or arrogant, but we didn’t want to the groups to constrain our designs unduly by focusing on needs or desires they already understood. We wanted to lead a discussion with the groups toward unexpected ideas…” (ibid: 22)

The probes in question discussed in this article consisted of packets full of maps, cameras, photo albums, and media diaries. To learn more about how the designers employed this technique and its outcome check out the article, its an interesting read—especially for instructors trying to incorporate reflexive techniques into their design courses.