Cultural Probes

The concept of the cultural probe was first realised in 1999 by Gaver, Dunne and Pacenti as an element of an artistic movement. A probe is a kit of tools specially prepared to be appropriate for the research being conducted, but often includes a disposable camera and a notebook/journal. Other tools frequently included are maps, task lists, post it’s, and anything else that might make data collection easier. These packages are then given out to users for a period of time, to allow them to document experiences and thoughts that they may have in their daily lives. Often, the users are asked to reflect on specific occurrences, such as patients recording difficulties they have post surgery.

Contributor: Darby Bicheno, 2013
CASCO

Cultural probes were used by CASCO on a project aimed at improving patient experiences in a hostel like facility for former psychiatric patients in the UK. Through their study, they found that a major point of concern for both patients and staff was the difficultly of trying to maintain constant contact. Through this study and consequent project, a pager like system was developed to be installed in the homes of the patients and the staff offices.

Contributor: Darby Bicheno, 2013
CRITICISMS

Cultural probes have the benefit of allowing the user as much time and freedom in the information they give as they like. They can also allow researches a look into aspects of a users life that they might not have considered, or otherwise never get the chance to see. Criticisms against this method however are that the data gained is dependant on the users idea’s of what may be valuable to the research. For these reasons, cultural probes are often used exclusively in the early stages of a development to discover potential problems, rather than for evaluation purposes.

Contributor: Darby Bicheno, 2013