What are Cultural Probes? The Basics.

Reading: Universal Methods of Design by Bella Martin and Bruce Hanington.

Cultural Probes are, at their core, a creative way to get a better understanding of a community, possibly in ways that the designer(s) could not have anticipated otherwise.

A Cultural Probe is something (typically a package of items) sent to people in a community with instructions of how to use the contained items, and a return address. The intent of these packages is to consider the personal context of people in said community. The goal is not to send a map and say “How exactly do you get from this point to that point?” These probes are much more open ended and exploratory in nature. A better example of something in one of these kits may be a small audio recorder with instructions of use, and have instructions – The next time you go on a walk, be it to a cafeteria, or simply your favorite place to sit and read outside, bring me with you, and talk to me! Tell me anything running through your mind. There is no such thing as unimportant, here. It is important for these probes to be informal, as we want personable data, but also thoughtful, as we want high response rates, while getting thoughtful, respectful feedback from enthusiastic users. Once again, the goal is not to get data in numbers, but to better understand the target community as a whole, in relation to our project.

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