Using cultural probes in ethnographic field studies
Ethnography, cultural probes, field studies
Cultural Probes have recently gained prominence in interactive systems design, where they have been employed to explore the role of pervasive systems in the home of the future. Cultural Probes originated in the traditions of artist–designers (Gaver et al. 1999) and have been deployed to provide ‘inspiration’ for design activity. Cultural Probes are specifically concerned to explore how future technologies can support the domestic values that motivate and drive the adoption and use of new technology.
We use Cultural Probes as a way of obtaining information from the members of our user groups who are more difficult to research by other means due to the sensitivity of the investigation and the remoteness of the locations and as a way of uncovering or at least shedding light on users social, emotional, and aesthetic values and habits. The probes also provide an engaging and effective way to open up communication channels and foster an ongoing dialogue with users involving them in the design process. The probes have enabled us to overcome some of the distance that inevitably exists between researchers and users and, thereby, to gather a rich set of materials that grounds designs in the lived realities and textures of everyday life.
Sensitivity to the feelings of the participants who agreed to be part of our study required a range of sympathetic data gathering techniques. Some agreed to keep personal diaries of their daily activities. All were also supplied with Polaroid cameras and voice activated Dictaphones in a Cultural Probe pack. In addition to these items, the packs consisted of a disposable camera, photo album, visitors book, scrapbook, post-it notes, pens, pencils and crayons, a set of postcards addressed to the researcher, and a map. These were handed out, much like a birthday or Christmas present, and the use of the probes was explained. The photograph below shows typical contents of a probe.
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