Cultural probe

Cultural Probes are a way to gather qualitative data in your research from the hands of your users. It consist of preparing a diary in which user log in information based on the task you've asked them to perform. The Cultural Probe can be expanded to contain all sort of gadgetry that serve the purpose of gathering insight for you research. You can ask users to take pictures using a disposable camera included in the pack, or ask to draw on templates you provide, record audio logs or anything like that.

Good for:

  • Gathering rich insights from your user.
  • Learning about user's environment and context around your research. 
  • Engaging the user in the process.

Bad for:

  • Anything that could be answered by a questionnaire. 

How to use

  • Prepare your participants beforehand. Take time to prepare them and make sure they know what you are trying to achieve and why you need them. This will ensure that they will stay engaged and that you get the results you want.
  • Think of what kind of data you want and prepare some tasks around that. Be mindful of the time it takes to perform them and the environment you expect them to do their tasks. Finally don't forget to make them fun and leave enough freedom for the participants to be creative and let them surprise you.
  • Assemble the Cultural Probe and all its gadgetry and deliver it personally to the participants. If t's not possible to do it personally make sure to add a personal feel to it, remember you want them to invest their time and attention so make sure they feel like it's worth it. Finally, if possible, keep in touch with them through out the process.
  • Collect all the Cultural Probes and related material and start digging into it!
  • BONUS: It's always a good idea to share back some of the insights with your participants so if possible take time to share back with them what you've learned.


A Cultural Probe can assume many shapes and form so its output will be as varied as the type of tasks you've created. But no matter what shape it takes your research will most likely be dense and full of insights. Divide your data into categories and start pulling out insights and patterns.


On average a good Cultural Probe should aim at 4 to 5 days of work for the participants. This is an indication only, depending on what you are researching and the amount of time required to complete the probe this time can be stretched further. 

What you need

  • Minimum required for this is a diary in which user can log in their insights or perform the task you expect them to do. If there is more to be added, prepare a small pack in which all of it can be collected and if needed carried along. 

  • Once you get back the Probes get a space where you can collect all the work in one place and start analysing it.