Thursday, 5 August 2010

CODENAME: "Experience Pack" Shhhh!

Continuing from the previous post on Cultural Probes, this post will look more at how the concept of "Cultural Probe" has grown, morphed and expanded into specific qualitative tools. These other tools go by names such as Informational Probe, Mobile Probes, Technology Probes, Empathy Probes (Bernhaupt et al., 2007), and are designed to elicit different data from different situations. It is on the back of this appropriation of Gaver's original concept that I wish to design a specific tool to help me prepare and elicit volunteer's awareness of experiencing an experience.

Source: (Kjeldskov et al., 2004)

Source: (Dalsgaard et al., 2006)

Source: (Crabtree et al., 2002)

Finnish academic Tuuli Mattelmäki (2006, p58) says that there are four powerful reasons for applying probes: INSPIRATION; INFORMATION; PARTICIPATION; and DIALOGUE.

Source: (Mattelmäki, 2006)

All four of these reasons fit into my rationale for designing a probe for the initial recruitment phase of my research project. To be able to bracket my understanding of the phenomenon of aesthetics of use I have to be very careful how I prepare volunteers from the briefings. I cannot guide them in the use of an interactive installation, but I don't just want the volunteer to flounder in the face of unfamiliar technology.

Source: (Mattelmäki, 2006)

Source: (Mattelmäki, 2006)

Source: (Mattelmäki, 2006)

Source: (Mattelmäki, 2006)

I want to prepare them enough to understand it, but it is THEIR experience of the technology I am interested in. To ensure they appreciate what I am there for is not the same as them, I need to enter into a controlled (phenomenonologically bracketed) DIALOGUE with them so they have an awareness about 'experience'. Through the first part of MY PROBE they will be INSPIRED to PARTICIPATE through some reflective INFORMATION from them. My thoughts are for this stage is to use the postcard component of a Cultural Probe.

Source: (Júdice & Júdice, 2007)

This "Experience Pack" Probe Kit will be designed by myself and will be given out only to those who commit to volunteering at the briefings as homework before I meet them again for the first pre-observation contextual interview. The first task (more on this in a future post) will begin their awareness of what I am examining without me being didactic. At the contextual interview their responses can then be the focus of the discussion, through which I can prepare them for observation without influencing their potential actions on the day.

I will have a second post-observation task in the Probe they can do as an evaluatory and reflective exercise soon after their fun with the interactive installation. The results of this task will then be brought to the post-observation contextual interview. This means the design of only two components. As the abilities with technology are mixed within the potential volunteers I will include in the pack very concise directions for use, and maybe also a CD with oral directions too. This pack will be aesthetic too to facilitate engagement, and a souvenir of their time spent. Maybe also a certificate of involvement will be appealing to them? The Probe will fit in a tin meant to fit a plastic DVD box, and I'm thinking of applying a vinyl logo to the front of the case. This logo will be a numbered limited edition to add to the exclusiveness of those who volunteer out of those attending the briefing.


There are four stages to the Aesthetic Volunteers involvement: BRIEFING; INTERVIEW 1; OBSERVATION; and INTERVIEW 2. There are four reasons to apply a Probe (see above). The number FOUR seems to be a recurring number, so I will limit the Probe's contents to be FOUR items: TASK 1 (4 questions on 4 postcards); TASK 2 (TBA); 1 CD; and 1 CERTIFICATE.

But my "Experience Pack" isn't really a Cultural Probe as I'm more interested in finding out about experience from a phenomenological perspective. Does this make my pack a "Phenomena Probe"? Is it an "Empathy Probe"? Or is it a "Socio-cultural Probe"? I think I need to read Mattelmäki's PhD Dissertation to answer that.

References used:

BERNHAUPT, R., WEISS, A., OBRIST, M., and TSCHELIGI, M. (2007) Playful Probing: Making Probing More Fun. In Proceedings of the 11th IFIP TC 13 international Conference on Human-Computer interaction (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). C. Baranauskas, P. Palanque, J. Abascal, and S. D. Barbosa, Eds. Lecture Notes In Computer Science. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, 606-619.

CRABTREE, A., HEMMINGS, T., RODDEN, T., CHEVERST, K., CLARKE, K., DEWSBURY, G. AND ROUNCEFIELD, M. (2002) Probing for Information. In the proceedings of the 2nd EQUATOR Conference. November 2002. Brockenhurst. [Accessed 4 August 2010]. Available from World Wide Web:,%20Hemmings,%20Rodden,%20Cheverst,%20Clarke,%20Dewsbury%20and%20Rouncefield-Probing%20for%20Information..pdf

DALSGAARD, T., SKOV, M.B., STOUGAARD, M. and THOMASSEN, B. (2006) Mediated Intimacy In Families: Understanding The Relation Between Children and Parents. In the proceedings of the 2006 Conference on Interaction Design and Children, June 07-09, 2006, Tampere, Finland. [Accessed 5 August 2010]. Available from World Wide Web:

JÚDICE, A. and JÚDICE, M. (2007) Designing Cultural Probes to Study “Invisible” Communities in Brazil. In the proceedings of Design Inquiries: The second Nordic Design Research Conference. Stockholm 27-30 May, Stockholm. [Accessed 5 August 2010]. Available from World Wide Web:

KJELDSKOV, J., GIBBS, M. R., VETERE, F., HOWARD, S., PEDELL, S., MECOLES, K. and BUNYAN, M. (2004) Using Cultural Probes to Explore Mediated Intimacy. In the proceedings of OzCHI, University of Wollongong, [Accessed 4 August 2010]. Available from World Wide Web:

MATTELMÄKI, T. (2006). Design Probes. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Art and Design Helsinki. Helsinki, Finland.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Cultural Probes

In planning my research methodology based primarily on a phenomenonological research framework I am looking into the adaptation of Bill Gaver's "Cultural Probe" to begin the preparation of each research volunteer (more on this in future posts and via Aesthetic Volunteers).

Source: (Kjeldskov et al., 2004)

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).

Source: (Gaver et al., 2004)

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)

Source: (Gaver et al., 2004)

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.

Source -unpublished: (Gaver et al., 2004)

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.

Source: (Gaver et al., 2004)

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.

Source: (Gaver et al., 2004)

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.

References used:

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:

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:


It's been over a week since I officially posted last, but I've not been idle. Under the BIBLIOGRAPHY link above I have placed my working bibliography for my research so far. It is not complete by any means, but currently it has about 76 sources. Over the last week I have systematically been annotating each source. Some of these annotations have existed in disparate forms across several different blogs, and in Word documents. Some entries had no notes next to them at all, except those locked away in my head. Since the last blog entry I have instead been adding new annotations to the basic sources. I still have about 30 annotations to go before adding new annotated sources.

The exercise in annotating has been beneficial though. Some sources that I have referenced have on annotating, proven to be less influential than I had previously thought. Other sources in contrast have proved to be very influential, and I have struggled in writing concisely about these. I have also begun to spot blatant typographical errors (sorry to Bill Gaber >I mean< Gaver to name one obvious error). Also handwriting the sources back into Harvard from other referencing systems is becoming tiresome. So it now good that this page will act as a central repository of my official bibliography, from which shorter bibs can be compiled (in any format). Also before anyone comments why I don't use any of the official academic tools to compile my sources, I learn more by hand writing them into Harvard. Therefore my grumbles are simply academic.