Probing the Probes

Terry Hemmings, Karen Clarke, Mark Rouncefield, Andy Crabtree, Tom Rodden


Ethnographic studies of technology have focused on trying to understand the socially organised, naturally occurring uses of technological artifacts in socio-technical systems. This paper describes the design work of two separate research groups utilising "cultural probes" as a mode of participatory design for domestic settings. The first group created specially designed probes to analyse the motivations that shape home life, to inspire future designs. The second group used a cultural probe derivative as an adjunct to an ethnographic study of a sensitive "home" setting - a sheltered housing complex - and used them for "information" rather than "inspiration". The paper outlines an innovative evaluation of the production, use and methods that inform the use of probes for a participatory design and explore the ways in which cultural probes and probes hybrids might present alternative strategies for exploring "sensitive" settings.


Methodology;participatory design;cultural probes;domestic probes;ethnography;art and design;design practice;home;workplace;ISBN 0-9667818-2-1.

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