Our design process and the project overall was fairly interesting. Our group began by trying to figure out a group that we did not know anything about and had no previous connection to. This turned out to be fairly difficult even between just the four of us; everytime we came up with a new idea, one of us seemed to have a pretty good knowledge base on the subject. We had things as common as bartenders to diverse as architects from other countries. After we had compiled a list we wanted to determine a group that we would be interested to really learn more about and get inside of the minds of to figure out more about them. We finally settled on people who were in debt with $1 million or more.
Choosing this demographic was a fairly interesting plan on our part and we decided to go along with it because of how unique of a situation these people are in. The total sum of money that they owe or have lost can equate up to being more money than most people will ever see in their lives. Although this can sound like a very “spoiled” or “conceited” demographic we did not undermine just how devastating it can be to lose that much money, and we also understand that they might not have even had those millions to begin with and somehow found themselves in a Millionaires debt while still making “average joe” money.
After we chose a group of people to investigate we wanted to select a set of activities, artifacts and general ideas for our probe kit that would allow us to learn more about this group of people without directly addressing the debt problem and without shaming them for the debt that they have accrued. Unfortunately it turned out to be a lot harder than we expected as a lot of our initial ideas came back to revolving around numbers and money. But who wouldn’t want to learn more about that? However we understand that those approaches can bring on extra unwanted grief for people in that situation. We resolved to find a set of probes that would allow us to gain insight into the lives of these people but in a roundabout fashion that would not let on to the true nature of the investigation. Iteration was key with this project, we would come up with ideas, talk them over, discuss their emotional impact as well as what information we could possibly gain from them and if any of the ideas seemed to lack sustenance we would iterate over it to add depth, further details or we would completely scrap it and start over. The probe selection process took us quite a while to complete but at the end of the day I am pretty happy with the ideas we have come up with and what they will be able to tell us.
At times the project was a little frustrating because everywhere we looked for resources seemed to say the same things about probe kits regarding what to include in them. We were constantly second guessing whether our kit would be successful, if we could gain any information from it or if we were just diluting ourselves into thinking that we knew what we were doing. Other times the project seemed very rewarding because it seemed like we were on the right track and were making connections that would allow us to make actual headway if we set out a few of these probe kits for real. I think it did get us excited to think about alternative research methods and at least for myself allowed me to see how it would be fun and information to run an investigation like this. Although the data may or may not be useful it would be entertaining and insightful into the lives of the participants at a minimum.
A really big problem to overcome for myself while thinking about designs for this probe kit was that I was continually, already thinking about what types of information we were going to get from these probe kits. I would construct these fake people in my mind who had fake debt and I would envision them using our probe kit and the different ways they would use it and what information we could get from that. But the truth is, I don’t understand that kind of debt. Sure I have a TON of college debt, but it isn’t $1 million. So I don’t think I could adequately say what kind of reaction these people would have to our probe kit and that sometimes heavily influenced what I thought would work in the kit and what wouldn’t and it just turned out to be harder to design for someone else, in a situation I’ve never felt before.
The benefits of a probe kit in general are fairly straightforward and we have discussed it, but it allows us to make informed models about a group of like situationed individuals and create a model in a way that is not formed just by using numbers. I feel like it ties in heavily to quantifying emotional impact because we can draw stronger ties to emotions and we are not just dealing with raw numbers. Our probe kit I feel would be very useful because we went out of our way to ensure that the participants would not feel victimized, belittled, or reminded of the crippling debt that they have accrued. Our probe kit allows them to go about their daily routines with a few extra steps involved (if they choose to do all of the kits activities). I feel like our kit could even improve their mood, after all, who doesn’t enjoy taking a selfie here or there, or telling a story using only emojis? I feel we have a very strong and entertaining probe kit.
Unfortunately I think a huge pitfall of our probe kit as well as most any probe kit in general is how effective they really are. At the risk of offending any hardcore probe kitters out there, I feel like a lot of the information that is pulled from them borders more on the researchers grabbing trendlines out of thin air. Don’t get me wrong, I believe there can be real correlations and that those correlations can teach us a lot, but I also feel that for every useful piece of information we are returned more useless pieces. It may be true that those in debt with $1 million dollars tend to tell more stories that feature the money emoji or the sad face emoji, and from this we can understand that that debt is in the back of their mind even when they aren’t being reminded of it. But we can also learn that those in debt with $1 million dollars take selfies in the morning before they wake up, which does not really tell us much, we can concoct an idea that maybe they are too depressed to get out of bed and that’s why all selfies are taken in bed, but unless we conduct further studies we wont really know. I think, and I believe it was talked about somewhere, that a way we could really maximize this is to conduct probing and then supplement it with a more formal research test.
Another hard thing about creating a probe kit is trying to make the activities seem fun, but not be over-encumbering to someones schedule, but still be informative for us, but not seem like we are targeting a specific thing about that person. This creates a wide range of design problems, that I have already discussed and was a fun challenge. I definitely had fun doing this project and honestly would like to see the results our probe kit would have when tested in the real world.