On Design Probes

Cultural probes are a staple of the user-centered design toolkit. They’re great for sparking insights and building empathy and it’s nice to see them spreading into the service design realm.

Design researcher Tuuli Mattelmäki has written what has to be the ultimate resource on the technique. Her 2006 dissertation on Design Probes [PDF 3.9MB] from the University of Art and Design in Helsinki offers nearly 200 pages of richly illustrated examples, history and theory. It presents a step-by-step overview of the method and concludes with seven academic papers on the subject. The dissertation is also available for purchase in bound format from the university book store.

A few of her older presentations on design probes are floating around. Applied Probes [PDF 996k] and Overview [PDF 4.7MB]. They’re a little easier to digest.

For more on the subject, Bill Gaver’s work at the Royal College of Art (also covered in the dissertation) is worth tracking down. See his paper on the Value of Uncertainty [PDF 1.7MB] and overview of Cultural Probes [PDF 6.4MB].


  1. Great discovery Jeff! Such a shame that these valuable papers don’t reach mass (service design) audience the minute they are released. Academics should really start using twitter😉

  2. Jeff

    Keep an eye on that taik.fi bookstore. They’re releasing a new service design book next month that looks good.




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