First developed by Gaver and his team in 1999, a Cultural Probe is a kit of inspirational materials designed and brought together to elicit responses from research volunteers. Hemmings suggests that "each probe object should be capable of invoking a different form of response that fits within a category of acceptable emotional responses" (Hemmings et al., 2002, pp44-45). With each object within the kit, it is there to provoke "inspirational responses from people" (Gaver et al., 2004, p53).
These responses are in no way comprehensive information about the individual, they can be seen as "fragmentary clues about their lives and thoughts" (ibid). Gaver sees Probes as producing a dialectic between the researcher and volunteer (2004, p55). The Probe kit is not to be used in front of the researcher but like "planetary probes, cultural probes are ‘sent-out’ by researchers and return fragmentary data over time" (Kjeldskov et al., 2004, p4)
The Cultural Probe can bring in valuable information in an non-scientific way, relying on more creative methods. Gaver is critical of those who have adapted the idea and have since made it more analytical. He warns that in making it too focused on specific analysable results, the researcher loses the rich insights into a subject's experience.
One of the researchers to have adapted Cultural Probes is Adam Crabtree from the Equator Group. Cultural Probes are in no way problem free. An inherent problem for a researcher is "just what the data is and, with that, just what the focus of analysis is" (Crabtree et al., 2003, p9). Like those design researchers who use Cultural Probes, Crabtree sees them being "the first stage in an ongoing and difficult process of design" (ibid) providing useful insights that can be explored through the design phase or through a more detailed qualitative study.
My interest in using Cultural Probes is in developing the notion into a probe to begin the next research project. I will be using a volunteer group to engage in using an unfamiliar interactive installation within a gallery environment. This is to explore, from a Visual Communication perspective the Aesthetics of Interaction, observing an aesthetic experience of each volunteer. Before this activity I need to bracket my prior knowledge and experience to enter the research objectively. I will be selecting the volunteers from two briefing meetings in September. When each person volunteers they will be given a very specific 'EXPERIENCE' Probe. They will be asked to complete the tasks and bring the Probe with them at a contextual interview before the gallery event. This Probe will begin the process of understanding the volunteers prior thoughts on what 'experience' is, how they understand to recognise 'an experience', how the felt when within it, and their emotions whilst recollecting it.
This needs more development (and another post). I have included below some visuals of existing Cultural Probes as examples. My idea will not include cameras or diaries, as during the event they will be videoed and photographed any way for my own reference.
GAVER, W., BOUCHER, A., PENNINGTON, S., and WALKER, B. (2004). Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty. Interactions 11(5), 53-56.
CRABTREE, A., HEMMINGS, T., RODDEN, T., CHEVERST, K., CLARKE, K., DEWSBURY, G., HUGHES, J. and ROUNCEFIELD, M. (2003) Designing with Care: Adapting Cultural Probes to Inform Design in Sensitive Settings, in Proc. of International Conference of the Australian Computer-Human Interaction Special Interest Group (OzCHI’03), pp. 4-13
HEMMINGS, T., CLARKE, K., CRABTREE, A., RODDEN, T. AND ROUNCEFIELD, M. (2002) Probing the Probes, Proceedings of the 7th Biennial Participatory Design Conference, pp. 42-50, Malmö, Sweden: Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. [Accessed 4 August 2010]. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.mrl.nott.ac.uk/~axc/documents/papers/PDC02.pdf
KJELDSKOV, J., GIBBS, M. R., VETERE, F., HOWARD, S., PEDELL, S., MECOLES, K. and BUNYAN, M. (2004) Using Cultural Probes to Explore Mediated Intimacy. Proceedings of OzCHI, University of Wollongong, [Accessed 4 August 2010]. Available from World Wide Web: http://dl.acs.org.au/index.php/ajis/article/viewFile/128/107