Cultural Probe

A method to examine the behavior and values of users in their cultural context through a collection of tools and assignments.


A Cultural Probe is a research method that involves providing participants with tools, such as cameras or diaries, to document their lives and experiences. It's particularly useful in exploring cultural, social, and emotional aspects of user behavior. By allowing participants to self-report, Cultural Probes uncover nuanced insights that might not emerge in traditional interviews or observations. They are often used in ethnographic research, design anthropology, and human-centered design to deepen empathy and understanding.

Suitable for

  • Understanding the daily routine of a specific group of individuals
  • Understanding people through their everyday lives, values, emotions, and desires
  • Gathering stimuli in a natural environment without the presence of a researcher


Cultural Probe Kit

A collection of tools and materials that participants use to record their experiences, thoughts, and feelings in their everyday environment. The kit may include items such as journals, cameras, voice recorders, and activity cards.

Activity Cards

A set of cards that provide participants with specific prompts and tasks to be completed as part of the cultural probe. These prompts encourage participants to reflect on and engage with their environment and experiences, providing insights into their culture and behavior.

Participant Instructions

A clear and concise guide for participants that explains the purpose of the cultural probe, how to use the materials provided, and any specific tasks or activities they are asked to complete.

Consent Forms

Documents that participants sign to indicate their voluntary and informed consent to participate in the cultural probe study. These forms outline the purpose, duration, and any potential risks of involvement, as well as participants' rights to privacy and confidentiality.

Data Collection Templates

Structured forms, spreadsheets, or online systems used to organize, compile, and store the data generated by the cultural probe. These may include templates for logging participant details, demographics, and contact information, as well as recording participants' responses and observations.

Analysis Plan

A detailed plan outlining how the collected data from the cultural probe will be analyzed, including methods, techniques, and tools to be used for identifying patterns, themes, and insights. This plan should also specify the criteria for data quality and relevance.

Final Report

A comprehensive document that summarizes the objectives, methods, findings, and conclusions of the cultural probe study. The report should provide actionable recommendations for design, based on the insights gained from the participants' experiences and cultural contexts.

Visual Documentation

A compilation of images, videos, or other visual materials generated by participants during the study, illustrating their experiences, perspectives, and environments. This documentation can be used to support the findings and recommendations in the final report.



Define research goals

Determine the study objectives and define the questions you aim to answer through the cultural probe method. This will guide the content of the probe kit and the data you collect from participants.


Identify target audience

Specify the demographic and/or psychographic characteristics of the participants relevant to your research. Consider aspects such as age, gender, location, occupation, and cultural background to ensure a diverse and representative sample.


Design the cultural probe kit

Develop a set of materials, activities, and instructions that will help participants reflect on and express their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors relevant to your research goals. The kit may include items such as diaries, cameras, maps, stickers, or drawing materials, as well as tasks that encourage participants to engage with their environment and record their experiences.


Test the cultural probe kit

Before deploying the kit, conduct a pilot test with a small group of people similar to the target audience. This will help you identify any ambiguities or difficulties in the instructions and activities, allowing you to make revisions before the main study begins.


Recruit participants

Select a diverse sample of participants that adequately represents your target audience. Provide a clear explanation of the study's purpose and what is expected of them. Obtain informed consent and discuss any ethical considerations such as confidentiality and data storage.


Distribute the cultural probe kits

Hand out the kits to the participants with clear instructions on how to use the materials and complete the tasks. Establish a timeline for the completion of the activities, being mindful of how long the tasks may take and any potential scheduling conflicts for participants.


Monitor and support participants

During the study, maintain communication with participants to address any questions, concerns, or issues that arise. Offer support and encouragement, and remind them of the timeline and expectations for completing the activities.


Collect and analyze data

After the completion of the activities, collect the kits and examine the data collected by participants. This may include photographs, drawings, diary entries, and other artifacts. Analyze the data using qualitative methods, such as thematic analysis or grounded theory, to identify patterns, themes, and insights relevant to your research goals.


Present findings and recommendations

Synthesize the results of the analysis and present them in a clear, concise, and actionable manner. Communicate the insights gained from the cultural probe method to relevant stakeholders and discuss their implications for product or service design and development.


Refine and iterate

Use the findings from the cultural probe method to inform the design process and guide further research. Continually refine and iterate on the method, incorporating additional data and insights to enhance your understanding of users and their culture.



one month or more


a box containing various artifacts, such as a camera, a notebook, a map, postcards, etc.


one researcher, five or more participants


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