Our design process was very free-flowing. We basically had a brainstorming session where we bounced ideas off of each other. We initially tried to come up with activities that were as “quirky” and abnormal as possible, but then tried to narrow the scope of our activities to things that will tell us something about our participants. Fortunately, we got to bounce a few ideas off Aisling in order to get a better idea of the attributes of effective probes. One important thing we learned is that the activities the subjects must do should be designed to not bring up any painful emotions, especially due to the nature of our personal subjects. People who are over a million dollars in debt may not be anxious to relive any terrible decisions they’ve made.
I found this assignment to be especially difficult because it was so different than anything I’m used to designing. We had to find creative probing methods that give us a sense of who our subjects are without coming out and asking them too directly. One example probe we were shown involved showing the subject a map of Blacksburg and asking where the Statue of Liberty would be located if it were a map of New York. This shows us the ways in which the subject thinks creatively without really telling us anything concrete about the person. We tried to emulate that with our Emoji maze. It gives us a window into their creative decision making without “testing” them. We also worked a bit with misdirection on the triangle question. We give them vague instructions, telling them only to draw a triangle, but in reality we aren’t interested in the triangle at all. What we want to see is which writing utensil they select for their illustration, in hopes of identifying a trend or inferring something about a given subject.
One definite strength of our probing kit is that is doesn’t bring up any painful memories or make the subject feel dumb at any point. We didn’t want them to feel stumped or like they were being tricked. One idea we came up with during brainstorming was to write down a big number, but we were steered away from this because they may derive pain from large numbers due to the magnitude of our debt. The “hardest” question we ask is which three contacts they would delete from their phone and why, but this is more for the subject’s benefit than ours. We want them to evaluate certain relationships and figure out which attributes are or aren’t desirable in them. In this way, hopefully they can build more constructive relationships in the future. I think that’s a major strength of our probing kit.
Our probe kit is weak when it comes to understanding exactly why these people got into debt in the first place, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. We don’t want to bring up harsh memories from the past, we just want to see how these people operate in abnormal situations.
While probes go relatively easy on participants, failing to ask truly hard-hitting questions, that’s just a side effect of probes’ “informal and friendly” nature. Probes are a great tool because they’re so experimental, and it’s hard to know exactly what you’re going to get out of it in advance. It allows subjects to explore themselves. It also inspires curiosity and reflections out of the subjects who start to wonder what we hope to get out of these exercises and how they can “ace” the “test”.
I certainly felt that I grew as a designer throughout this process. Designing a probe kit forced me to experiment and think in a different manner than I’m accustomed to.