Pressure Project 2: Surfer Probe Kit

Community: Surfers

Description: People who frequent beaches on coastal areas and identifies with the surfing community.

Why we are interested: We are interested in the surfing and want to know about the community before we learn about the sport.

Probe Kit Elements

Diary: A centralized place for the person to organize their thoughts and information for the researchers. It is a 30-page diary for 30 prompts that people can write or draw what they think or feel about the prompts within thirty-five days. They can choose to do however many prompts as they want within the time frame.

Envelopes: The envelopes are closed and will have the items in them. The diary will have pages specific to opening the envelope and writing or drawing about the items within.

Items: Physical things the people can touch or feel and reflect on.

List of items: Watch, Pocket Knife, USB Drive, Balloons, Mini Canvas, Playing Cards, Carabiners


A Disposable Camera: Some of the diary prompts require a camera.


Sticky Notes: A quick creative component that can optionally be added to the diary or other things.

World Map: A component to some of the prompts in the diary.

Crayons: Allowing the volunteer to add color and maybe a bit more of creativity to their responses.

Zip Lock Bag: Intended to protect the disposable camera. Can be used for other things.



  • Take a picture of a something or a place that makes you feel uneasy.
  • Take a picture of something or a place that makes you excited.
  • Name one or two songs that remind you of your childhood.
  • Name one or two songs that sadden you.
  • What is one thing you hope will be different in your future?
  • What does going to the beach mean to you?
  • What is one word you would use to describe yourself?
  • What was your lowest point of today?
  • What was your highest point of today?
  • If you had 60 minutes all to yourself, how would you spend them?
  • Among all the items you have gone through the box, what items do you like the most?
  • During your ideal time which one would you like most, surfing or listening to music?
  • Do you get confused?
  • What is your favorite time to go to the beach?
  • How did you feel when you woke up this morning?
  • What would your dream job be?
  • Write about some activity you want to do.
  • Write about or draw anything you want (5 of these)
  • Open an envelope and write or draw about the item within two days. (7 of these)

Instructions Provided:

Hey there surfer!

Here’s a 10 tips you should know before starting!

  1. The only materials that need to be returned to the researchers is the Surfer Diary, the world map, and the photos taken (of course you can make a copy of all of the photos for yourself first)
  2. You get to keep everything else after when the time period is up.
  3. You have 35 days.
  4. The Surfer Diary contains 30 prompts, and we would like you to do one prompt a day, but don’t worry about missing a day, because you have 35!
  5. You don’t just have to write to respond to any prompts, you can do whatever you want!
  6. Please don’t open any of the envelopes containing the mystery items unless a prompt from the Surfer Diary tell you to do so.
  7. You can do any prompt, in any order from the Surfer Diary. We only ask that you do at most one a day, and complete all of them in 35 days.
  8. You can use the sticky notes to write or draw whatever you want, and stick them to whatever you want. Same for taking photos with the camera! Some prompts however may ask you to use sticky notes or take some pictures.
  9. You can use any of the materials anyway you want. Just please give some sort of response in the Surfer Diary about how you do it.
  10. Above everything else though, just be yourself and have some fun while doing this!

Method of distribution and Return: Volunteers for the project will be mailed the “probe kit” as a whole, and then will be expected to return 3 small elements of the probe kit (specified within the kit) 35 days after they receive the kit.



When we all first got together, we quickly got to work on deciding which community to target our probe for, to which we finally decided on the surfer community. We started off by targeting surfers in the California region, but realized that this was too specific and began to generalize it to surfer communities around the world. After we selected our target community, we listed what little we knew about this community, and what few questions we really wanted to know. This ended up being a little to specific and we had to back off from targeting certain bits of information as it became too ask and answer like, instead of what we thought an actual cultural probe should be.

I believe that one of the strengths of our kit is that it contains an interesting mysterious element. The items provided in the kit are not particularly significant, but the mysterious element of them adds a bit of allure to the kit and process as a whole keeping the person involved in the experiment. A weakness about this however is that it may make analyzing the results solely through whatever information or pictures the volunteer make, be difficult and hard to interpret, possibly even skewing the results towards the more easily volunteered information. I also believe that this could potentially be a problem with cultural probes as whole however. They rely on volunteered information to represent the actual lives of the people participating, which is not always true.

The process for creating a cultural probe kit seemed difficult at first, but it only got more complicated the further into the process my group delved. Trying to figure out how to probe a community you know nothing about, while actually knowing nothing about it is a strange but important concept in my opinion. I definitely see where cultural probes could be helpful given more time, however, I do not believe that cultural probes should be created to survey a community in under 2 days. I believe a lot of thought and consideration can easily go into a cultural probe, and should be put into them as I believe they can have significant results.


Our team decided to do our pressure project on Surfing Community that exists in California. For this project, we used cultural probes to gather information about people and their activities. We collected diary entries from the participants to get information about surfer’s lifestyle, and their daily activities. These helped us to get useful data for our design process. The idea behind the project was to know about Surfer Community by getting their responses through attention-grabbing activities. Thus, we used a box with eight envelopes containing different items that participants can choose randomly and reflect the prompts in the diary. This gave us maximum information with minimal intrusion on their actions.

Pros of cultural probe kit:

–   Useful for gathering information from the user/participants

–   It allows participants to self-report

–   Effective methods to get useful evidence

Cons of cultural probe kit:

–   It may take large amount of time

–   Participants also need to spend longer time for the activities

–   Participants may not self-report

–   Difficult to get real-time information and materials used aren’t available easily.


When we started our design process, we were more fact and information based. We were aiming for specific results and were asking questions that were specific to the surfing community. As we continued working and brainstorming, we realized that we weren’t allowing for any creative aspect. We realized that cultural probing didn’t involve getting specific information. It was about learning about a community and simply getting any information that helped people not involved in the community to understand them better. So we switched gears. We started asking more general questions, questions you could ask anybody, not just someone in the surfing community.

There are many benefits and weaknesses for our kit and with probe processes in general. For starters, our kit could’ve been better organized had we had more time. Our box could be more engaging and our materials would be more professional. However, one benefit about our kit is that it has a fun element to it. In class, we talked about how fun typically has a mystery element to it (i.e. with a game you’ve never played or an amusement park you’ve never been to). So I think that the envelopes add that mystery to the kit to make it a more pleasant experience.

I think a benefit and weakness of the probe process is that is unstructured. The participants have open ended questions and I think typically have more leeway with what they can do with the probe kit. They are given instructions but they’re loose instructions, from what I understand. I think this allows for more self-reflection and with that, you can understand more from the community. The unstructured aspect of the probe process does make it difficult and more of a weakness. Participants might want more definite instructions or rules. They might misunderstand and take the probe in an entirely different direction. This could be beneficial or detrimental, depending on the results.


The idea of a “cultural probe” is interesting and the process of creating a kit might reflect on my personal experiences. At first, I found myself being very goal oriented and specific about what kind of information we wanted to get out of surfers. At times we were being a little too specific and intentional about the prompts and items in our kit with the intention of “teasing out” information that we thought we wanted. Without having a whole lot of real world experience with cultural probes, looking for specific information we think we want probably isn’t the best way to learn about a community we know nothing about because we could miss out on some valuable things we would never think about as outsiders. As a pressure project, this was great because the second time our group met, it really forced us to reprioritize the most important things about the kit. If we had more time, we might have wasted too much of it dwelling on the specifics.

I think a real strength of the kit is the items hidden in the manilla envelopes. It creates some suspense for the surfers as they complete diary prompts and gives them something to look forward to.

A weakness I see is how unstructured our kit is. It allows for a lot of flexibility which is great and gives the surfers a lot of room for creativity. I think some people might not enjoy how flexible it is though. Some people want/need structure. The flexibility could also make the information we get from people too specific to individuals which might also make it difficult to compare with information from other kits. So we might learn a lot about individual surfers but not a lot about the community.

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