Case Study: The Presence Project

Key Issue: How do we learn about the local culture by proxy?

As part of a European-Union funded research project, a team of designers looked at novel techniques to increase the presence of the elderly in their local communities. Part of their early research included these cultural probes – packages of maps, postcards, and other materials designed to provoke inspirational responses from elderly people in diverse communities.

Postcards had thought-provoking images on the front and questions on the back, such as:
– Please tell us a piece of advice that has been important to you
– What do you dislike about (venue)?
– What place does art have in your life?

Maps were used to survey elders’ attitudes towards their environment. They were asked to mark zones where, for instance,
– They would go to meet people
– They would go to be alone
– They liked to daydream
– They would like to go but can’t

A camera was included with requests to document:
– Your home
– What you will wear today
– The first person you see today
– Something desirable
– Something boring

The designers used this research to stimulate the imagination rather than define a set of problems. They weren’t trying to reach an objective view of elders’ needs through the probes, but instead a more impressionistic account of their beliefs and desires, their aesthetic preferences and cultural concerns.

Perhaps we can adapt this methodology in the fall to similarly inspire our design efforts this spring. We could develop the cultural probes in early Fall and send them to our partners in Chile to distribute.

  1. October 23rd, 2010

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