ProbeTools are being developed as part of a project sponsored by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).  Our goal is to build on contemporary making and hacking trends to update Probes and make them widely accessible to researchers of any background.

Cultural Probes were first introduced in 1999 by Gaver, Dunne and Pacenti after they invented them for a project set in three different European communities. Probes have become popular internationally as a method that balances empirical encounters with designers’ imaginations.

Originally consisting of kits of postcards, maps, photo albums and cameras, the Interaction Research Studio has explored many different variations since. A common component in most kits has been disposable film cameras, repackaged with requests for certain kinds of pictures. 

Since the early Probe studies, disposable cameras have become rarer and more difficult to deal with. Smartphones and digital cameras, however, are too feature-laden to recreate the interesting constraints that disposable cameras offered. 

ProbeTools are designed to fill this gap.  With features such as computer vision, motion sensing and time lapse photography, they don’t just recreate disposable cameras but open dramatic new opportunities for visual research. And we’re designing audio-only devices as well, to take the possibilities even further.

Best of all, because ProbeTools are open-sourced, designers and researchers are free to modify them to suit their own purposes — or just for fun. Go on, surprise us!

Further reading
Gaver, W, Dunne, A., & Pacenti, E,. Design: Cultural probes, Interactions, Vol 6, Issue 1, Jan/Feb 1999

Gaver, W. W., Boucher, A., Pennington, S., and Walker, B. 2004. Cultural probes and the value of uncertainty. interactions 11, 5 (Sep. 2004)

Boehner, K., Vertesi, J., Sengers, P., and Dourish, P. 2007. How HCI interprets the probes. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. CHI ‘07

Boehner, Kirsten; Gaver, William and Boucher, Andy. 2012. Probes. In: Celia Lury and Nina Wakeford, eds. Inventive Methods: the Happening of the Social. London: Routledge Press, pp. 185-201. ISBN 0415574811