Reading Response: Cultural Probes  by Bill Gaver, Tony Dunne & Elena Pacenti


This article was very very inspirational and close to home for me. I have spent my last 2 years doing aging research at the community level, and have led several “community consultations”, “town halls” and other research events to gather data about the exact questions mentioned in Cultural Probes.

The reason it is very very inspirational for me is that I feel like it answered a question that has been plaguing me since I started this program – or at least has started me to help answer it for me. 

How can I bring design philosophy and methods into creating meaningful social change for vulnerable populations. I actually hate the word vulnerable population, but I will just use it here to mean groups of people that have economic/social/political disparities in some way. Older adults would kind of fall into this category – although I think the point is that they kind of aren’t- as would maybe low-income, certain minority ethnic/racial groups etc. 

One of the biggest challenges in doing this kind of work is connecting with people and not coming across as arrogant, un-knowledgable about the community etc. However, this is a real challenge given that if you work with diverse communities, you will be dealing with diverse people. There is no way you can have something in common with everyone.

Cultural Probes exploration of the “artist-designer” was fascinating to me. I particularly was inspired by how they brought in different methodologies tied to art movements and the art community of practice generally into their research. I have heard of things like this before, but never imagined they were based on actual artistic theories and movements. 

This article really helped me better understand how art/design can really be used to enhance research, as a bridge to connect people with different backgrounds, understandings, and life experiences in a meaningful an uncontrived way.

THIS IS EXACTLY WHY I AM HERE. And now I have some great direction to ask my own questions about how I can myself become an artist-designer, and further what I do best, helping people connect to each other, ideas and resources for success. Can’t wait.


  • What other artistic traditions can be used to inform research into diverse populations?
  • What kind of research is this most appropriate for? Emotional/Psychological/Qualitative vs. Quantitative?
  • Who else is using Cultural Probe as a research tool, and what issues are they trying to tackle?
  • What does it mean to be an artist-designer? Is it a view, a set of tools, a background?

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