Cultural Probes (Team 5)

Vicky Zhou
Feb 9 · 5 min read

Team 5: Jaclyn Saik, Danny Cho, Rachel Lee, Alice Fang, Vicky Zhou

What is a cultural probe?

A cultural probe is a technique used to inspire ideas in a design process; it serves as a means of gathering inspirational data about people’s lives, values, and thoughts.

Brainstorming:

Part of our brainstorming process was figuring out what our objective was. Through our research on employee common spaces last week, we discovered a lot of interesting clues into the employee culture. Because the place is so understaffed and the employees are extremely busy, a lot of the evidence we gathered in the common spaces was based on artifacts and small evidences of use, rather than observations of the employees themselves. It was this detachment that made us wonder: what is the employee culture like?

After an initial brainstorm of a couple probe examples (above), we arrived on a couple guiding ideas to explore for our next probe iteration:

  • Discover more about the social culture
  • What does an ideal break look like?
  • Does camaraderie exist/what form does it take?
  • Sociality and satisfaction: what is satisfying about working here?
  • Is there a community among employees, and what key principles describe it?

From this, we narrowed in on 2 different diary ideas. Because employees have almost no break overlap time, we wanted to look at ways to facilitate conversation and promote culture awareness without requiring more than one person to be present at the same time. Because there are so many other teams implementing cultural probes on other parts of this space, we wanted to make sure our intervention didn’t impose too much on their day.

Refined Iteration #1: Community Diary

Cover and inside
Inside pages

For our very first prototype, we thought of creating a “Community Diary” that would sit at the long main table in the communal employee break room. During an employee’s break, they would come across this community diary, and be prompted with a question. The employee would then answer the question however they wanted, and then write a question for the next employee to answer on their break. This pattern would repeat until all employees had had a chance to both answer and write a question.

Refined Iteration #2: Individual Diary Kit

For our second prototype, we moved onto making an individual journal. We believed that a community journal would be a little intimidating, and that an individual journal would allow employees to feel more comfortable and able to freely express their thoughts.

Refined Iteration #3: First Diary Kit Prototype

For our third and final prototype, we refined our questions to be more interesting and engaging, as our previous questions were more funneled towards a specific answer and did not allow for creative engagement. For example, one of the questions that would elicit a playful response but allow insight into the dynamic of the Construction Junction employee dynamic was the fictional scenario about a chocolate cake. This question would allow for the employee to answer the question however serious or silly they wanted to be, but also would allow us to understand how one employee’s perspective on the community space might differ from another’s.

In addition, we incorporated other fun tasks such as taking a picture of what they believed to be a summary of the Construction Junction employees, and also the task of filling in the blanks of comic. These activities served as other fun little means of looking into the culture of the Construction Junction employees without being too monotonous and overbearing with questions.

Responses from Iteration #3

Task #1 Responses

A poster in The Community Room
A corner in the Community Room

Task #2 Responses

Comic responses
Comic responses
Comic responses

Question Responses

More journal responses

Challenges

We faced several challenges throughout this cultural probe activity, the two major ones being:

  1. A lot of employees felt under-qualified / not involved enough to answer and declined to participate
  2. The day we went to distribute our booklets, Construction Junction was understaffed.

Future Steps: Second Diary Kit Prototype

As for our next steps, we were thinking of either re-editing the individual journals to ask more personal and introspective questions, or reintroducing the idea of a community journal. For example, asking questions that go beyond just the playful nature of the community and employee culture at Construction Junction, and instead ask questions that cause self-reflection. Or, with the reintroduction of utilizing community journeys, we were hoping this would help facilitate conversations and/or interactions between employees, having that they are now more comfortable with answering these types of cultural probes.

CMU Design Research Methods // Spring 2019

Tuesdays and Thursdays 3:00-4:20 PM MM A11 // This half-semester course is about research in design, and mostly about research through design — how to use the methods and skills you’re learning as a designer, to investigate questions in the world, generate and evaluate ideas.

Vicky Zhou

Written by

CMU Design Research Methods // Spring 2019

Tuesdays and Thursdays 3:00-4:20 PM MM A11 // This half-semester course is about research in design, and mostly about research through design — how to use the methods and skills you’re learning as a designer, to investigate questions in the world, generate and evaluate ideas.

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