Cultural Probes

Overview of how, why, and when to use cultural probes for the purposes of design.

Cultural probes are playful and creative artifacts or stimuli that are introduced into a design research process in order to elicit inspirational responses. This class is an overview of how, why and when to use cultural probes as well as the aesthetic and socio-cultural considerations necessary for using probes in research at a variety of field sites. We will review examples of cultural probes and stimuli that might be used in a variety of design research traditions including critical making, critical design, design fiction, and speculative design approaches. We will build and evaluate our own probes in order to better understand how these artifacts might be introduced into ongoing design research projects.

Learning Objectives
Students will become familiar with the use of cultural probes as they are situated within different design research traditions. Specifically, the goals, opportunities, and advantages will be compared with the limitations, difficulties and disadvantages of using cultural probes through a series of examples from design projects around the world.

Learning Outcomes
Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Describe the history of cultural probes within design research traditions
  • Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using cultural probes
  • Articulate the features and purpose of successful cultural probes
  • Understand potential applications for cultural probes in a variety of sectors and with a variety of topics and issues

Format & Grading
Class time will be focused on lectures, discussions, hands-on activities and review of weekly assignments. We will build and evaluate our own probes in order to better understand how these artifacts might be introduced into ongoing design research projects. Grading will be based on 20% Class Participation, 30% Weekly Assignments, 50% Final Project

Course Restrictions
IDN 504 Observing Users is recommended prior to this course. This course is open to all Institute of Design students.