Cultural Probes

What is a Cultural Probe?

A cultural probe is a research method used to gather insights and inspirations from the daily lives, experiences, and behaviours of the participants. It involves giving participants a package containing a set of open-ended prompts or activities to complete, like writing in a journal, taking photos, or completing tasks, and then analyzing that information upon its return.

The aim of a cultural probe is to gain a deeper understanding of people’s values, beliefs, and habits which can then be used to inform the design process in a way that is more deeply connected to what people truly want and need.

A woman in a casual outfit taking pictures with a disposable camera.

What do you need for a Cultural Probe?


  • ~1-3 days to lock down your goals and to decide what to put in your cultural probe
  • ~1-2 days to source the contents and package your cultural probes for each participant
  • Anywhere between 1 week to a few months for your participants to complete the cultural probes (this all depends on the complexity of the probe and your research goals)
  • ~1 week to analyze the data and to summarize the findings


Some things you can include in a cultural probe are:

  • Surveys
  • Journals
  • Cameras
  • Voice recorders
  • Instructions and prompts
  • Any other materials related to the study

How do you perform a Cultural Probe study?

Several polaroid photos, ribbons and crafting supplies scattered on a table.

Step 1: Define the research goals and objectives

Determine with your stakeholders what you want to learn from the study and what questions you want to answer.

Step 2: Identify your target participants

Choose the group of people you want to study, taking into account factors such as demographic, cultural, and behavioural characteristics.

Step 3: Create the cultural probes

Create the prompts, tasks, and other materials that participants will use to gather information and insights. Ensure that the probes are designed to be engaging and relevant to your participants.

Step 4: Recruit the participants and hand out the cultural probes

Find and select participants who fit the criteria for the study, then provide them with their cultural probes and any other supporting materials.

Step 5: Wait as they generate data

Now you wait as your participants generate data with their cultural probes. This length of time will vary depending on the complexity of the cultural probes, the research goals, and your participant engagement levels. It could take anywhere from 1 week to a few months to collect this data.

Step 6: Collect the cultural probes and analyze the data

Analyze the returned data and look for patterns, themes, and insights that you can use to inform your design process and decisions.

Step 7: Communicate and evaluate the findings

Share the results of the study with your stakeholders and evaluate whether the research goals and objectives were met.

Tips for great Cultural Probes

  • Cultural probes can be easily forgotten by your participants, so make sure to check in with your participants at regular intervals.
  • The materials used in a cultural probe should be designed to be portable and accessible. This will allow your participants to easily engage with the tasks and activities in their everyday lives.
  • The materials should also be designed to encourage participants to share their thoughts, experiences, and behaviours in a meaningful and insightful way.
  • Keep the probes and activities as simple and straightforward as possible (while making sure you still gather the necessary data). This will reduce participant burnout.
  • Encourage honesty and foster a judgement-free space because, at the end of the day, you’re looking for their true thoughts, beliefs, and experiences.
  • Consider over-recruiting. Participants can back out at any moment during the study, so you might want to have more participants than necessary.
A woman sitting on a bed writing in her journal and staring off into the distance.

More resources for Cultural Probes