Personal and Ubiquitous Computing

, Volume 11, Issue 5, pp 349–359 | Cite as

Probing user values in the home environment within a technology driven Smart Home project

  • Victoria Haines
  • Val Mitchell
  • Catherine Cooper
  • Martin Maguire
Original Article


Smart Home technology looks set to become an increasingly common feature of domestic life. However commercial desire for technical innovation rather than explicit user needs are often the driving force behind the development of Smart Home products and services. This study adapts the Cultural Probe approach developed by Gaver et al. [2] to collect primarily visual data about what people value within their home environment. Whereas Cultural Probes are predominantly used to build empathy with users when designing product concepts, this approach attempted to provide similarly fun and engaging prompts for data collection when the design process and project context required more structured consideration of user needs. This paper presents the method developed, project findings and recommendations on how the method should be applied.


Probes Photo study Domestic environments Values Smart homes User-centred design Technology 



This work forms part of the TAHI projects, funded by UK’s Department for Trade and Industry and project partners. Thanks go to all the participants who took part in the Photo Study.


  1. 1.
    Ulrich K, Eppinger S (2000) Product design and development. McGraw-Hill, USAGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Gaver W, Dunne A, Pacenti E (1999) Cultural Probes. Interactions 6(1):21–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Frohlich DK (2003) The social context of home computing. HP LaboratoriesGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Venkatesh A (1996) Computers and other interactive technologies for the home. Commun ACM 39:12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Mateas M, Salvador T, Scholtz J, Sorensen D (1996) Engineering ethnography in the home. In: CHI ‘96 companion proceedings, pp 283–284Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Venkatesh A, Vitalari N (1992) Emerging distributed work arrangement: an investigation of computer-based supplemental work at home. Manage Sci 38:121687–121706CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Tweed C, Quigley G (2000) The design and technological feasibility of home systems for the elderly. Research Report, School of Architecture, Queens University, BelfastGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Dewsbury G, Taylor B, Edge M (2001) The process of designing appropriate smart homes: including the user in the design. Scottish Centre for the Environmental Design Research, Robert Gordon UniversityGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Gaver W (2001) Designing for ludic aspects of everyday life. Royal College of Art, UKGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Hughes J, King V, Rodden T, Anderson H (1994) Moving out from the control room: ethnography in system design. In: CSCW’94. ACM, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    O’Brien J, Rodden T (1997) Interactive systems in domestic environments. designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods and techniques. ACM, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Dray S, Mrazek D (1996) A day in the life of a family: an international ethnographic study. In: Wixon D, Ramey J (eds) Field methods casebook for software design. Wiley Computer Publishing, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    O’Brien J, Rodden T (1999) At home with the technology: an ethnographic study of a set top box trial. ACM Trans Comput Human Interact (TOCHI) 6(3):282–308CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Crabtree A, Rodden T (2004) Domestic routines and design for the home. Comput Support Coop Work J Collab Comput 13(2):191–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Hofmeester K, de Charon de Saint Germain E (Eds) (1999) Presence: new media for older people. Netherlands Design InstituteGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Mättelmaki T (2005) Applying probes—from inspirational notes to collaborative insights. CoDesign 1(2):83–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Hemmings T, Crabtree A, Rodden T, Clarke K, Rouncefield M (2002) Probing the probes. In: Binder T, Gregory J, Wagner I (eds) Proceedings of the 7th biennial participatory design conference, Malmo, Sweden 2002—PDC 2002, pp 42–50Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Rouncefield M, Crabtree A, Hemmings T, Rodden T, Chevherst K, Clarke K, Dewsbury G, Hughes J (2003) Designing with care: adapting cultural probes to inform design in sensitrabive settings. In: Proceedings of OzCHI 2003. Ergonomics Society of Australia, Brisbane, pp 4–13Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Muller M (2003) Participatory design: the third space in HCI. In: Jacko J, Sears A (eds) Handbook of HCI. Erlbaum, MahwayGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Hutchinson H, Mackay W, Westerlund B, Druin A, Plaisant C et al (2003) Technology Probes: inspiring design for and with families. In: Proceedings of conference on human factors in computing systems (CHI 2003). ACM, New York, pp 17–24Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Gaver W, Boucher A, Pennington S, Walker B (2004) Cultural Probes and the value of uncertainty. Interactions 11(5):53–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Krippendorff K (1980) Content Analysis: an introduction to its methodology. Newbury Park, Sage, cited in Robson C (2002) Real world research: a resource for social scientists and practitioner-researchers. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Robson C (2002) Real world research: a resource for social scientists and practitioner-researchers. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Beyer H, Holtzblatt K (1998) Contextual design: defining customer-centered systems. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, San Francisco. ISBN 1-55860-411-1Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    ISO 9186 (2001) Graphical symbols—test methods for judged comprehensibility and for comprehensionGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Taylor A, Swan L (2005) Artful systems in the home CHI 2005 Portland, Oregan, USA, April 2 –7. ACM, New York, pp 642–650Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Koskinen I, Mättelmaki T, Battarbee K (2003) Professional empathic design. IT Press, HelsinkiGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Mättelmaki T, Battarbee K (2002) Empathy Probes. In: Proceedings of the participatory design conference, Malmo, Sweden 2002, pp 266–271Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Victoria Haines
    • 1
  • Val Mitchell
    • 1
  • Catherine Cooper
    • 1
  • Martin Maguire
    • 1
  1. 1.Ergonomics and Safety Research InstituteLoughborough UniversityLeicestershireUK

Personalised recommendations