Crafting Cultural Probe Boxes
As part of my research for my project on perception of value in the products that people own, I decided to do Cultural Probes as a research method.
- Gather data on people’s relationships with their physical possessions
- Explore ways in which to make people question their consumption and waste
- Create an engaging physical experience to spark meaningful conversation
I initially chose to do the probes because I really enjoy making things. I find that expressing my ideas physically can be the most effective way to communicate them and I wanted to use this to gather my data physically too.
In preparation for building the cultural probes I looked at examples done by other designers, in particular looking at the papers Cultural Probes by Gaver, Dunne and Pacenti (99); and Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty by Gaver, Boucher, Pennington and Walker (04).
The main thing that came out of my research was that Cultural Probes are a means of conversation not simply another standard research method. They use oblique wording and evocative images to open up possibilities, the designer is “trying to establish a role as a provocateur”.
“Where most research techniques seek to minimise or disguise the subjectivity of the process through controlled procedures or the appearance of impersonality, the probes purposely seek to embrace it” – Gaver, Boucher, Pennington and Walker (04)
I really liked how the conversation followed the form of expression/ interpretation/ expression/ interpretation as can be seen in this diagram. What is so unique about the method is that the designer and their viewpoints and unique way of thinking is as much a part of generating the content as the participant is. The data gathered at the end is not interpreted intellectually but empathetically.
The probes are so much deeper than gathering data about the everyday lives of the participants. They do gather this data but along with it they also give the designer the opportunity to explore the deeper meanings behind this.
“integrating routines with aspirations, appearances with deeper truths” – Gaver, Boucher, Pennington and Walker (04)
I decided hand make wooden boxes to contain the contents of my probes.
Boxes are a bit of an obsession of mine (I did a whole light design based on the concept a few months ago) as it is often argued that Product Designers are there to design pretty boxes for electronics to go in. Through this whole project I am trying to use design in a much deeper way than this by actually assessing its role in our consumerist world.
I really enjoyed making the boxes. It gave me time to think about what I was doing within the project and what I hoped for. I also had some little surprise insights into my project even through making them.
- The Idiosyncrasies of Wood – It was quite frustrating that some of the oak pieces that I had cut were warped or sometimes misshapen and I found myself carefully selecting which pieces would go together to minimise distortion in the final boxes. I began to draw parallels between the boxes and the people who would be receiving them – each unique in so many unexpected ways.
- The nature of Squares – I decided to make the boxes square and I’m glad that I did so as the lids didn’t always fit both ways. Somehow, despite me being very careful with my measurements, the squares just weren’t square. Isn’t it interesting, the failings of the maker in the tangible world compared to the perfection in our heads.
Whist making the boxes I also found myself spending a lot of time wondering where they’ll end up. I really enjoyed speculating which objects they will contain in the future and the stories behind those objects. Perhaps the boxes would even be passed down through generations?
By putting a lot of effort into making the boxes, I feel that I added a lot of value myself and hopefully this means that the boxes will endure as items in the world.