Designing Cultural Probe Kits for Lebanese Kids

In collaboration with Toufoula, a Lebanese NGO dedicated to improving children’s quality of life, the MENA Design Research Center is currently involved in developing innovative tools for better health awareness amongst the youth in Lebanon. Following their last Dream Rooms project, Toufoula approached us with a new initiative. The aim is to promote healthier lifestyles within the young community but unlike traditional awareness campaigns, we decided to embark on a different endeavor. In order to find out how to reach today’s kids, we designed cultural probe kits that would help us dig deeper into their world and learn moreĀ about their interests and health awareness through inspirational qualitative data. Coming up with the right questions to ask is the most crucial part of the design process; we concentrated on giving the kids all the tools that could convey their thought, ideas, opinions and feelings. By introducing a camera, the child could now take a photo of a preferred object or setting, a sound recorder to explain certain emotions that might be more difficult to write down, stickers to indicate likes and dislikes, and colorfully animated postcards to be inspired and answer some personal questions about themselves. All these various multi-sensual and interactive methods allow the child to be more responsive and intuitive. This form of design research has proven to be far more effective than concrete interviews with researchers in sterile observation rooms with stalking cameras. It allows the child to feel free in his /her environment and explore his/ her world with creativity and insight. We are currently prototyping the first kit which will soon be distributed to a school in Beirut. The results will be collected and analyzed for further modification before mass production and distribution.


Cultural Probes

Cultural probes are a very interesting form of design research. Unlike direct observation techniques such as usability-testing or traditional field studies, it allows participants to self-report. The probes are usually aimed at finding out more about people, their emotions and behaviors regarding a certain theme or subject. They are most appropriate when the researchers needs to gather information from participants with minimal influence on their actions.

Cultural probe kits are a package of selected material that request the participants to fulfill certain tasks. These material usual include disposable cameras, diaries, postcards, maps, stickers, and sometimes voice recorders.

The requests usually revolve around the subject being researched and when completed, are handed back to the researcher for analysis. This method was first introduced by three designers Gaver, Dunne, and Pacenti in 1999.