When you want to engage your (future) users for a longer period of time in research for new applications; if you want to obtain a total picture of what somebody does during a whole week or if the application to be designed is completely new so that you can’t observe your users, cultural probes are a good solution.
With the cultural probes method, users are not (only) observed but they also get to use a number of cultural probes. The user will use them for a certain amount of time, for instance a week.
Applying cultural probes with different (types of) users can generate a whole lot of useful information:
First of all, cultural probes generate a lot of information. In fact you get a picture of a longer period in someone’s life, instead of just a moment. Applying probes reduces quite a number of practical limitations (time and means). A continuous presence of the researcher in the target group is not necessary.
Secondly, cultural probes give the design team a lot of inspiration. Looking at the photos and diaries and studying them gives the researchers, the designers and developers the opportunity to broaden their horizon. The photos, documents and other materials lead to many ideas that make the design process richer.
Finally, cultural probes can make the users more aware. They make them think about their own (often taken for granted) activities. The result is that, later on in the design process (e.g. in a brainstorm or co-design session), the users can think about a research question much more easily in a more concrete way.