Pressure Project 2: The Probe Kit



Short description of the selected community and explanation for your group interest

The community we selected is people who have over $1,000,000 in personal debt. We chose this group because we are interested in the personalities and decision-making processes of people who have taken financial risks that simply haven’t paid off. We hope to provoke inspirational responses in order to understand their present mindsets. The amount of money that they owe is greater than the total money some people will ever see in their lifetimes. We find this fascinating, and we hope to find out more about people who are in this position.

Documentation of each element of your probe kit, including written descriptions, photographs, illustrations etc.

Our probe kit includes four separate activities, which we will encapsulate inside a no-frills cardboard box. The probes vary in format and abstraction levels, but all are designed to help us learn about our chosen community.

1 – The Emoji Maze
Emojis are icons that express various emotions and thoughts. We developed an “emoji maze,” which consists of a single paper sheet that is filled with common emoji icons. The paper indicates a “start” at one single emoji and an “end” to another emoji, which is located on the opposite end of the “maze.” The user must draw a route from the start to the end, circling each emoji along their selected path. This means that the user must select their desired expression as they move. Because the emojis represent a litany of objects and faces, the user’s choice of path might possibly reflect their current state of mind, their general feelings, or even their individual taste. A user has anywhere from 3-8 path choices from the various positions on the grid. This means we can see what the users’ options were from every position on which they landed. Furthermore, we can begin to analyze why they may have chosen that specific emoji over their other options.



2 – Contact List Modification
First, we will have the user remove three contacts from their phone. In addition, we will ask the user to explain their choice with a simple a sentence. Ideally, the “why” is going to be the thought-provoking part of this activity because the subject will have to formally communicate their own thoughts and feelings. This may help the subject evaluate certain relationships in their life and articulate what they find undesirable in a relationship. Conversely, we intend to ask the user to come up with three people that they wish they could add to their contacts list. Again, the user will provide a reason for these choices. This should help them find positive qualities that they hope to form in future relationships.



3 – Daily Photographs
Each participant will be given a disposable camera with instructions to take three selfies a day. We hope to gain insight into these people based on how they choose to take these photos. For instance, if the user does not take any photos at all, what does that tell us about them? Some people may not even feel like it is a productive use of time, and they will not even attempt the exercise. For the users that actually do follow through with the instructions, we intend on analyzing various qualities of the photographs: the facial expressions of the users, how many people are included in the picture (is every photo taken solo?), where the photo was taken, the time of day in which it was taken, etc. By giving the user a disposable camera, we are limiting the timeline of this probe. We estimate that if a user is to take three photos a day, the average disposable camera would last them around eight days (assuming our disposable cameras all hold 24 photos). We believe there is quite a bit of information to be gathered from an individual’s photographs. Not only that, but we think that this exercise is modernized and engaging enough to keep the intended users


4 – Drawing a Triangle
This is an extremely simple task, but the key is misdirection. In the kit, we will include a pencil, a pen, a black marker, a pink highlighter, and possibly more. We’re curious to see which utensil the user selects for their drawing. A pencil could potentially reflect hesitation to draw something permanent. The pen is very formal, whereas a pink highlighter could be considered more fun and less serious. Additionally, the color choice could possibly express the user’s mood. Although it is hard to determine what we will gain from this in advance, there will be several properties to analyze once we have a decent sample. Most notably, it is even possible that we will notice a pattern among users.



Overall Probe Kit Elements:

  • Emoji Maze Sheet
  • Contact List Modification From
  • Disposable Camera
  • Triangle Drawing Template
  • Assortment of various writing utensils (pens/pencils/markers)
  • Prepaid Shipping Envelope (used to return necessary items)

Timeline for completion:

The disposable camera activity is by far the longest because it involves day-to-day upkeep until the camera has run out of film. We estimate that our timeline for completion, therefore, will range anywhere from 8-10 days.

Method of distribution and return:

Because our activity probe takes at least a week to fully complete, we decided it best to conduct the activities remotely. The probe kits will be distributed through the mail based upon a predetermined list of individuals who happen to fit our criteria for investigation (and under the pretense that these individuals have volunteered to try out our activities). In turn, we ask that the participants mail the completed results back to us via an included envelope that will be free of post charges and can be dropped in any US mail carrying bin so that there is virtually no pressure or additional strain on the participant.

Individual Reflections:

Ethan Mattice: Post

Colton Walker: Post

Ben Jaques: Initially, I was gearing all of our proposed activities toward the subset of humanity lost in debt. However, I soon learned that this is not exactly the purpose of an activity probe. We can learn more about a specific community by drawing parallels between members of that community, but we must first pinpoint those parallels. And those parallels could be anything! They don’t have to be related to investments or regret or financial strain or anything even close to our idea of what these people might be thinking or feeling. After all, we chose a group we know nothing about. By that logic, we are unable to properly assess the group without simply getting to know them first. And I think our wacky activities allow us to do that in our own way.

The activities definitely pander towards millennials (emojis/selfies/smartphone contacts all in one box), but I believe that is what makes them relatively engaging exercises. We want exercises that do not remind users why they were selected, so I believe we have some strength in our activities with regards to that. However, I think that we have gone too broad with our activities because these exercises could realistically be applied to any community. It is challenging to find that equilibrium point in which activities do not relate to a specific community but still allow you to learn more about a specific community.

Overall, I like the idea of activity probes because they present a creative and refreshing way to learn more about people. However, the results from activity probes appear to be harder to analyze. Human responses to these exercises are less concrete than test results, for instance. But people are complex, so I believe we are deserving of more complex studies like this.

Mark Olsen: Post



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