it’s all about people – design probes

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November 12, 2013 by Liat

Social design, as we have seen,  is all about people: with and for people. In order to come closer to understanding the complexity of problems, feelings, habit, needs and opportunities, designers in the last years adapt many more tools and methods that concentrate on the user.

We are way beyond an approach in which the designer is an expert observer and the user is a strange object being looked as an animal in a lab. The funny movie  ‘Kitchen stories’ tells about those old days in a very amusing way. It demonstrate how experiments in the past fail to stay in their own rules. The idea was of non-attachment with the person you watch failed. On the contrary, the wish to go deep into people’s life and minds, has brought design to the adoption of participatory practices of different types.

Empathic design, co-design, participatory design are some of the terms used to indicate a work done with people involving them directly in the design process. These methods allow the creation of empathy between designer and user and the discovery of design opportunities. Many of them are taken from Ethnography and some were (and are ) practiced in Architecture.

In this course, we are developing a project related to cultural understanding and integration. As a first step, the students were asked to find a specific person and to design a ‘design probe’ for them. What are design probes and why do we need them?

Bill Gavere, defines Cultural probes (or design probes) as

“a technique used to inspire ideas in a design process. It serves as a means of gathering inspirational data about people’s lives, values and thoughts. The probes are small packages that can include any sort of artifact (like a map, postcard, camera or diary) along with evocative tasks, which are given to participants to allow them to record specific events, feelings or interactions. The aim is to elicit inspirational responses from people, in order to understand their culture, thoughts and values better, and thus stimulate designer’s imaginations”

According to Tuuli Mattelmäki, design probes may have the following aims:

1)  Inspiration – Probes can enrich and support the designer’s or the team’s inspiration

2)  Information – Probes can collect information about the users

3)  Participation –  Probes can provide the users with an opportunity to participate in ideation

4)  Dialogue – Probes can build up an interaction between the users and the designers, as well as within the design team, in accordance with the user-centred design principles

As the first part of their project, he students are choosing now a person that will receive their kit and will allow them to have insights, information, participation and dialogue. They should choose a person that has, or has had been in a situation of confrontation between different cultures. It can be a member of the class, a friend or family members. The design of the prob is free and may be analog or digital.

Stay tuned to see what they come up with!

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5 thoughts on “it’s all about people – design probes

  1. see also, Sub Conference: Empathy and Human Centered Design
    http://j.mp/15hgolC

  2. […] Social is design, as we have seen, is all about people: with and for people. In order to come closer to understanding the complexity of problems, feelings, habit, needs and opportunities, designer… Empathic design, co-design, participatory design are some of the terms used to indicate a work done with people involving them directly in the design process. These methods allow the creation of empathy between designer and user and the discovery of design opportunities. Many of them are taken from Ethnography and some were (and are ) practiced in Architecture.  […]

  3. […] so many inspiring best practices, even if people gave us very interesting insights with our design probes, still the white paper is a difficult […]

  4. […] The students in 3 different groups has explored this issue by finding interesting case studies and by exploring different cultures through design probes. […]

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