Video Probes

March 23, 2009

I have been developing a research technique to be used at the beginning of the design process to help understand and gain insights to users and aid in the generation of new concepts.

Video probe snap shot

Video probe snap shot

This method uses short 3 minute videos to record images, surroundings and people so the researcher can understand more about the participants perceptions of a product or space.

The Video Probe can be used on various levels.

Inspiration: Analyzing the videos to generate a range of different ideas specific to a particular design challenge. The videos help the researcher to pick out details that may otherwise have been missed.

Understanding of participant: As a designer I am engaging with people, places and communities I know nothing about. The 3 minute videos allow me to very quickly get a better understanding of the various stakeholders, the environment and challenges.

Understanding of community: As part of my research I am studying self-service products in a community environment – using the video in this way is a better method for capturing the wider community as opposed to a photograph as it shows the participants interaction in real time. The videos can be viewed through the eyes of the participant, as opposed to viewing the participant using a machine/in an environment.

Promotion: A surprising outcome of the method has been how it has also been useful for the participants. The quality was such that they have been able to use the videos created as promotional material for their business.

Use within Industry: This method is appropriate to my research as it allows me to quickly get an understanding of the people, place, and product. This method can be used within a large multi-national corporation to help us try and better understand various elements of a users experience, a users day to day activity or environment in which our product will be situated. It is a method that does not require a huge investment. The researchers time is not taken up actually recording as the video camera is left with the participant.

Some of the strengths of this activity are:

Involvement of the participant in the design process ensures a closer relationship with the researcher and therefore a better understanding and appreciation of the final solution.

Useful output: valid not just for one particular project. Ability to build up an audio and visual record of a community of people within an environment.

Ease of use: Allowing the participants to simply play with the video camera can be a fun and enlightening process. There is no pressure on the participant to suddenly become the next Steven Spielberg…a 3 minute limit (no strict restrictions on time) has been set to so they do not become overwhelmed by the thought of creating a movie.


It should be noted that the use of the probe is only as useful as the researchers ability to be able to pull out the information or ability to be inspired by what has been recorded. 

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