Design Workshop 1
Probes: a Designerly Way of Researching

Workshop with Mari Nakano on cultural probes at The Maryland Institute College of Art/2008
Design Workshop Blog, Social Studies Educating Designers in a Connected World conference.

Workshop overview
The aim of Probes: A Designerly Way of Researching is to give participants hands–on experience creating cultural probes – designed objects and activities used in qualitative research studies. Using our design capabilities and intellect, what can we, as designers, create to understand the people from whom we are designing? How can we gather meaningful feedback through the creation of tangible objects and visual communication tools and games that can lead to greater empathy and understanding?

Participants will be divided into small groups and presented with an issue and a question. Using a “blank probe package” provided to each group, participants will be asked to design several “probes” that can help them in their research endeavors. At the end of the exercise, we will come together to critique and evaluate each groups’ set of probes and sketches to help clarify as well as better understand the use of probes as beneficial tools for research designers.

Desired educational outcome: To give participants hands-on experience that demonstrates the potential of innovative, non-traditional methods of research through the use of probes. The workshop aspires to encourage designers to contribute and apply their skill sets in the research arena.

The workshop will begin with a brief overview defining probes, showing samples of probes. Participants will be divided into small groups where they will develop their own probe prototypes and sketches based on a given research question. This will be followed by a critique and short discussion about the results of the exercise. In conclusion, we will share examples of the feedback gathered through actual probe-based design research projects held in our year-long Super Studio course.