The Probes program is a multi-stakeholder open innovation program that aims to deliver perspectives for the early identification of, potentially disruptive, business and innovation directions. Provocative conceptual designs and demonstrators that surpass the boundaries of a predictable future elicit reactions from the public and stakeholders. This response is meant to stimulate the creative and critical thinking that is needed to set directions for further exploration, innovation and development.

Our partners in this probes program are Philips, Rabobank, BPD, ICT Automation and Trudo. Our Guest partners are ACE, NPK and VPRO.

What is Probing?

Probing is a design-driven research methodology that aims to gather insights in the intrinsic drivers, beliefs, dreams, dilemmas and values of people. A probe is a visualization of a possible future situation, provocative, empathic and confronting, meant to provoke spontaneous reactions and emotions. The insights gained from the reactions of the probes feed the debate about different, even unlikely, developments in the world. During a probes program we identify the inspiration and opportunities for the concepts of tomorrow, for products, services, new business models, new processes and collaborations.

What will be the impact on our wellbeing if smart technology determines everything?

Domains: living environment, working environment, health

The Probes program 2016 kicked off with the above ‘what if…’ question. What if this were to become reality within the next 15 years? A probe process starts with a radical proposition, an extreme future perspective to stimulate creative thinking and imagination. It is not about probability, it is unrestrained and imagination is used to think and visualize a future where things might be possible that we can hardly imagine today.

The ‘what if…’ question implies smart technology will determine everything in the future. We were wondering what the impact of this could be on the well-being of people. It was not our intention to explore how exactly smart technology works, or to design smart technological applications. Smart technology is already present in our daily lives. We want to imagine what the exponent of this could be in the future, what life could look like in 15 years from now. In this probes program we were curious to find impressions of the impact on people’s well-being. Questions to think about were; what is well-being, what does it mean for different cultures, ages, situations and how it could be impacted by this supposedly dominant role of smart technology?

Inspirational perspectives from experts

At the kick-off event, experts from different domains [philosophy, technology, economy, society and business] introduced a defiant perspective on the theme resulting in provocative, inspiring, recognizable, comforting or confronting statements. The different opinions and viewpoints were discussed during  a debate. The result was a realm of visions, perspectives and opinions, all applicable to the theme.

The process

The student teams explored the theme and collected information, using different research methods like desk research, interviews and observations. With empathy, the perspectives of different people, context, cultures, ages and circumstances were explored and consolidated into insights. Based on these insights, a new ‘what if…’ question was formulated, that reframed the initial question into an original supposition.

Related to this new ‘what if…’ question the teams developed ideas and concepts for possible future scenarios and, subsequently, created probes. A probe is a visualization of [an aspect of] the future scenario. This can be an object, a place, a setting, a play or a story. The intention of a probe is to allow people to experience, feel and easily empathize with the future scenario and to react primarily and spontaneously to that supposition.

Next, the teams organised a setting, where they exposed the probe to people, in order to trigger spontaneous responses. They followed up with conversations, trying to understand what triggered people and, more importantly, the emotional drivers behind that. The main insights were collected and interpreted in terms of ‘what can we learn?’, ‘what does it say?’ and ‘what does it mean?’


The teams successfully presented their findings, followed by a debate, during a final Partner and Experts event, where they positively surprised the audience. In an additional workshop, exclusively for partners, the outcomes were analysed and consolidated into 6 insights cards, that contain the main dilemmas and drivers people experience and related strategies for people-focussed solutions. The insights should not intrinsically be considered as the shared vision of the future of the partners, but as collectively identified drivers for future solutions.    

The added value of probing for partners is recognised as a method that supports the process of design driven innovation within their own organisations. The probes program functions as an open innovation platform for the exchange of knowledge and facilitates the exploration of themes in a multi stakeholder setting. The program is considered to be a powerful tool for building partnerships, either between the public [knowledge institutions, government, public institutions] and private sector or between various business sectors and industries.


Contact details

Agnes Willenborg – 06 51050150 – agneswillenborg@worlddesignforum.nl
Hans Robertus – 06 81150225 – hansrobertus@worlddesignforum.nl