Design Probes + Empathic Design

This past week, we performed a “design probe” on ourselves, and analyzed some of the results in class together in our groups. I had never heard of a design probe, but it seemed intriguing. One aspect of this research method that I find to generate some bias is that the user being studied (in this case, ourselves) is very aware of the fact that their actions and habits are being watched, and therefore might alter some of the ways they would naturally and most likely act in order to produce an outcome that may feel more “correct” to them. I actually did not have this experience, however, because I did not start my day with intention to record every action or photograph every experience. I decided at the end of the “probed” day, spontaneously, that I would recall my actions and experiences of the day and use that Sunday for my design probe. Fortunately for me, I love to take photographs of everything throughout my day, so I had plenty of imagery and photographic evidence to include. I feel as though my approach gave much more insight to the events that would most typically occur in my day-to-day life and I was not influenced, then, by my awareness of the fact that my diet, activities, and clothing selections were being recorded and analyzed by a professor or, potentially, my classmates.

There could be a flaw with this method, though, too, because the user or the person subjected to analysis could create bias by being selective about what they include or don’t include in their package.

Overall, though, I am convinced that design probes are a great strategy for designing empathically because it allows the designer to get a sense of the day-to-day life of the user they are designing for. The design probe has made me significantly more aware of the activities, practices, and habits of my friends and family, and I have noticed that I spend more time observing the habits of my peers than previously.

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