User Research: 01 Digital Cultural Probe

Background: Cultural Probe was a design probe principle introduced by Gaver, Dunne, and Pacenti in a 1999 paper. They designed a research method that benefits both participants and researchers. Through a number of components, including postcards, diaries, and maps they intended to obtain more qualitative and personal user information. As described in the paper, “inspirational data” from the probes would help for an “impressionistic account” of users.

In the 21st Century, the power of technology, especially the launch of 5G, brings more possibilities to designing probes. Sub-principles like mobile probes, technology probes, and informational probes came to attention.

Rationale: The goals for this digital probe were functionality, usability, and flexibility. Through the exploration of the difference in terms of effectiveness between online and offline sources, the impacts of technology and new media would be demonstrated. Ultimately, this test would provide valuable information through the eyes of a typical designer, which could be representative of the entire designer's group. (What were this group’s true needs? How to better assist the group’s needs? What role did high-tech play in the research process?)

My partner Jerry was a design student from Parsons School of Design, who dedicated himself to interaction design including UI/UX, typography, and branding. To study the subject’s everyday art process, the subject’s persona, or identity, is firstly analyzed through a diagram, as shown below:

Jerry’s Persona Analysis

After analyzing the subject’s identity, below were some initial questions that come to mind:

Questions on Jerry’s Research Experience

To address these questions from an “impressionistic” perspective, digital cultural probes would be used. The process of the probe is explained below:

Jerry’s Moodboard Work
Jerry’s Pinterest Searching Experience (recording)
Screen-use Time

Evaluation: The purpose of these tasks was to get the subject aware of the resources he used and how effectively he used them. It was also to question the boundary between online and offline resources. The benefits of using probes as a research method were obvious. By giving the subject a restricted time to complete the tasks, it perfectly limited the work time to a week and also provided the subject with an immersive self-exploration experience. Researchers would have a more accurate and personal result to analyze later on as well.



Cornell. Roblox. Parsons. Alibaba

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