Cultural Prompts

“[Cultural] Probes are collections of evocative tasks meant to elicit inspirational responses from people —not comprehensive information about them, but fragmentary clues about their lives and thoughts” (Gaver et al., 2004).

I see value in the Cultural Probe as a method for obtaining textural information, and providing a sense of the complexity and subtlety in the culture of the participating communities. However, through the lens of critical pedagogy, I understand the concept of “probing” as intrusive and not a dialogue or an exchange. The act of probing is embedded with symbolism.

probe, noun:
1. a blunt-ended surgical instrument used for exploring a wound or part of the body.
2. a thorough investigation into a crime or other matter.
3. an unmanned exploratory spacecraft designed to transmit information about its environment.

There are connotations of asymmetric power dynamics in the use of a probe – where the probe-er is in a position of power (i.e. doctor or investigator) and the probe-ee shows weakness (i.e. wounded body, criminal).

I have renamed Cultural Probes to “Cultural Prompts” and I have adapted the idea somewhat to fall within the context of design education. I feel more confident that I can use prompts with young people and in community contexts without making suggestions or connotations towards asymmetric power dynamics of researcher-participant.

Cultural Prompts borrow techniques from the probe. They are activity based, and can be playful. They could include:

Some of these ideas are inspired the work of Carl DiSalvo, who works at Georgia Institute of Technology, and researches into community based public design.