Wednesday, May 6, 2015

DSDN 481: Project 6

Subversion, Indeterminacy, and Cultural Probes

Q ~ 1          Using the range of probes discussed by the authors, describe the different
forms probes can take and their corresponding goals.
Originally developed in 1999, cultural probes offer a more designed approach towards understanding the experiences and sensibilities of the participants, while enabling directed self-reporting by the participants. Probes involve engagement with experiences, objects, systems, and the concept of separation from the researchers. Kristen Boehner et al. (2007) seek in “How HCI Interprets the Probes” to categorise some of the goals that researchers utilise probes for. The key stance that they take is that the paper “is not a “methods” paper” (p. 1077), but focuses instead on the types of knowledge produced. This is defined as being more dependant on the goals of the researchers as opposed to the actual methods used. The same method can work for multiple goals, as Boehner et al. (2007) state that “the categories we have developed are not mutually exclusive” (p. 1078).

Each goal ends up focussing on a different facet of knowledge that probes can generate. Probes as Packet focuses on using cultural probes as a means of encouraging self expression in the participants. Boehner et al. (2007) place emphasis on the revealing of data that could lead quickly into industry-style design cycles. This goal of making probes function as a packet places emphasis on the initial design and resultant broad, rapid data. Probes in this vein often appear as postcards, cameras, ready-made kits, and other objects that involve evocative tasks.

Probes as Data Collection emphasises the collection of specific information pertaining to a specific context or question. Boehner et al. (2007) explore their use for developing design constraints and attributes as well as being a method for gaining understanding of needs, environments and technology. These probes, according to Mattelmäki & Battarbee (2002), often seek to develop a “holistic understanding” (p. 267), and can take the form of participatory exercises and questionnaire-like artefacts.

Probes as Participatory is where Boehner et al.(2007) engage with the importance of participation as the defining element of cultural probes. The probes can focus here on the way that participants might reflect on an experience. Participants get to explore the inspirational side of cultural probes, as well as controlling what information is shared. It also facilitates more emotionally-sensitive scenarios as well as giving the users a greater sense of privacy.

Probes as Sensibility enables discussion towards more story-based understanding of proposed experiences. Boehner et al. (2007) identify the value here in “subjective interpretations...biased data...interactions and reflections” (p. 1080). Here, if someone doesn’t want to participate, that can be just as telling as a result from someone who did. Experience-based probes are key in achieving this goal with respect to knowledge creation.

Q ~ 2          Summarise the authors’ views on problems that have arisen as researchers
adapt probes, and explain why you agree or disagree with their assessment.
The key issue that Boehner et al. (2007) highlight is the subversion of the original probes method and intentions. The result of this is the reappropriation of the methods to suit more traditional information-gathering approaches. This ties into the identified issue of uncertainty amelioration, where a lot of the paper authors sought to find the “one correct interpretation” (p.1081). Boehner also notes that combination of “rich explanations” (p.1081) and diversity of interpretations being lacking leaves the probes devoid of their original potential to explore and develop dialogical interactions between participant and researcher.

The reassignment of probe usage takes a step back from the original intent of the probe development. As a result, there are sensibilities and process that get ignored or swept aside, leaving the resultant data and uncoverings potentially barren of personality, story, and eschewing potential further exploration into interesting and engaging areas.

Q ~ 3          Using examples from the article, explain what you think are the main
opportunities and challenges presented by the use of probes.
Boehner et al. (2007) infer that probes have a uniquely varied potential to “surprise,...break preconceptions”, (p. 1082) and discover, as well as “…and define”(p. 1083). The variance in expression of the methods enables the researcher to gain a hugely diverse understanding of experiences, stories, feelings and data. Probes result in a wealth of potential understandings, data and misunderstandings, with the subjectivity and indeterminacy of responses acting as a membrane that can create both useful material and noise with no direction.

Boehner et al. (2007) note that one of the key challenges that face probes is the lack of a “critical interpretive frame” (p. 1083), which Peter Dourish (2006) concludes as a primary consideration in the case for probes being “intended to provide inspiration rather than the basis for analysis” (p. 549). Another challenge Boehner identifies would be to ensure that probes don’t become a “generic approach...producing materials that seem insincere” (p. 1083). These challenges could certainly be addressed with a careful look at both the design, distribution, consideration, and interpretation of the probes.

Q ~ 4          If you were to design a probe for your thesis research, what kind of probe would you choose, and why? What would you, as the design researcher, need to do to
ensure your probe worked well?
The nature of the probe would be as an establishing look at the feelings and relations people develop to/with their furniture and the objects in and around their lives. The probe would seek to produce inspirational material in order to initiate a dialogue and create starting points for the design process to develop. Utilising Probes as Packet as an outset goal would encourage the probe design to allow for a broader and more diverse range of responses and interpretations while also focusing on the evocative nature of tasks and the use of uncertainty as an asset.

Boehner, K., Vertesi, J., Sengers, P., & Dourish, P. (2007, April). How HCI interprets the probes. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 1077-1086). ACM.

Dourish, P. (2006, April). Implications for design. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in computing systems (pp. 541-550). ACM.

Mattelmäki, T., & Battarbee, K. (2002, January). Empathy probes. In PDC (pp. 266-271).

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