What is a prompt?

This course is orientated around what I call a ‘prompt’, which is used to generate an inquiry using practice and theory into what I refer to as ‘media practice problem’.
The prompt is focal point for the teaching and learning – it is used to frame the studio practice, the research
It is used to initiate informal responses – it is a type of catalyst, tool…
It is exploratory and open to different responses and interpretations, perspectives, speculations…visions of what may be possible
There is no definitive or right answer..it is about students reflecting on what occurred, what was made, the issues, problems that the practice raised…
However, this reflection has to move beyond description to a demonstration of what you have learnt, what you now know or understand and what you still need to learn and understand…

I have adapted a prompt from design research. In design research, like for example in the study conducted by Gaver, Dunne & Pacenti, they use the term ‘probe’ to describe a type of artifact. In the example provided, a carefully designed envelope that contains an ‘assortment of maps, postcards, cameras, and booklets’ (22) This artifact is designed to direct and initiate a conversation around unanticipated design ideas with the participants involved in the project (Gaver, Dunne & Pacenti 22).

In contrast to using a probe as a means to collaboratively work with other people externally situated outside the design team working on a project, I used the concept of a probe to induce ideas self-reflexively. I do this by formulating research questions as a type of ‘prompt’, to provoke unexpected outcomes. Often these prompts are open-ended and experimental. Schön’s concept of ‘exploratory experiment’ provides an insight into how these prompts are used:

When an action is undertaken only to see what follows, without accompanying predications or expectations, I call it exploratory…Exploratory experiment is the probing, playful activity by which we get a feel for things.(Schön 70)


Gaver, Bill, Tony Dunne, and Elena Pacenti, ‘Design: Cultural probes’, interactions, 6 (1999), 21-29 . http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=291235

Schön, Donald. The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic Books, 1983. Print.

Other resources:

Cultural Probes – Qualitative Contextual Design Research (video on YouTube)

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