Abstract

Cultural probes have long been used to provide designers with glimpses into the local cultures for which they are designing, and thereby inspire novel design proposals. Probes are designed objects—frequently packages—that contain open-ended, evocative, and ambiguous activities given to people to pursue, and return over a period of time. Fundamentally, they are meant to subvert traditional design methods. That is, the approach is intended to offer an alternative to the prevailing rational and scientific processes sometimes used in design. Despite their widespread use in developed contexts, there are few instances of using this subjective, design-led method in developing contexts. I describe my experience using cultural probes during the early stages of an ongoing design project in Bungoma County, Kenya. Returns from my comment cards and digital camera activities draw attention to probe recipients’ unique experiences and to Bungoma’s distinctive characteristics. These returns also inspired a series of speculative design proposals. My experience using this method motivates a discussion that elaborates on how a cultural probes approach can benefit design research by raising questions about generalizability, objectivity, and the pursuit of a single solution in design.

Keywords

Cultural probes; design; Kenya; speculative design

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License

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Jun 4th, 12:00 AM

Using Cultural Probes in Design Research: A Case Study from Bungoma, Kenya

Cultural probes have long been used to provide designers with glimpses into the local cultures for which they are designing, and thereby inspire novel design proposals. Probes are designed objects—frequently packages—that contain open-ended, evocative, and ambiguous activities given to people to pursue, and return over a period of time. Fundamentally, they are meant to subvert traditional design methods. That is, the approach is intended to offer an alternative to the prevailing rational and scientific processes sometimes used in design. Despite their widespread use in developed contexts, there are few instances of using this subjective, design-led method in developing contexts. I describe my experience using cultural probes during the early stages of an ongoing design project in Bungoma County, Kenya. Returns from my comment cards and digital camera activities draw attention to probe recipients’ unique experiences and to Bungoma’s distinctive characteristics. These returns also inspired a series of speculative design proposals. My experience using this method motivates a discussion that elaborates on how a cultural probes approach can benefit design research by raising questions about generalizability, objectivity, and the pursuit of a single solution in design.

 

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