Designing Cultural Probes

How to get unique insights and exceptional engagement from research participants

In the context of a university Design Research and Methods class we learned co-creation and several research methodologies. The class revolved around environmental health and measuring the impacts of an environment’s influence on people’s behaviours. With a multi-disciplinary team (Industrial designers Cora Hall, Benjamin Mills, Gian Fernandes and Communication designer Marcos Lopes), I designed cultural probe kits to learn more about food habits and philosophies of 20–30 year old Vancouverites.

What are cultural probes?
Cultural probes are a qualitative research tool, where open ended activities are given to a group of participants to learn more about their daily lives and environment. They start conversations amongst designers and bring novel insights.

More specifically we wanted to answer the following questions:
What sources of influence are present in participants’ day-to-day lives?
What are participants’ food aspirations and how do they compare to their food realities?
What emotional reactions do certain foods illicit in participants?

I was in charge of the visual identity and the UX of the kits, which included thinking of the users, their context, the clarity of the instructions and the general delight. All of which with the goal to engage and motivate participation.

Step 1 — Conceptualizing and finding the right activities

Step 2 — Design and Instructions

Overview of the kits

Step 3 — Execution

Step 4 — Results and Insights

We spent several hours gathering and organizing the data, finding patterns and interesting insights — finding connections between deeply personal interaction with each kit.

Some of our main insights:
— Food is a place for playfulness and humour.
— There are deep habits when it comes to eating outside of the home: often eating the same meals at the same place.
— Participants found it difficult to express judgements or assumptions on other people’s food habits.

Photos from the participant’s disposable camera. Participants were invited to photograph what they ate when they were out and in what environment.

Conclusion: An Inspiring Experience

Thanks for reading!

Designer @Microsoft, previously @Google, @YouTube, and @EmilyCarrU

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store