Barbie in China

As a team of four, we designed a cultural probe packet that would be used to gain insights of how young Chinese children perceive Barbie.


Chad Camara, Charles J Page, Matt Snyder, Thalith Nasir


3 days

Problem Space

Mattel will be building the largest Barbie store in the world in Shanghai. As part of that, they propose a large installation that children can interact with while at the store. In order to understand perceptions of Barbie and drive insights as to what installation to design, a cultural probe packet would be used as a data research tool.

Design Approach

Cultural probes are a great way to get rich qualitative data from target groups, even remotely. We initially interviewed our Chinese classmates and friends to get a glimpse of what their lives were like as teenagers. We had to be careful when designing our packet to make sure it was culturally situated and not stereotyped. For example, the colors red and white for e.g. have different connotations in China when compared to Western perceptions.


Our final probe packet targeted young Chinese girls in the 6-11 age bracket. We provided a camera so they could take pictures of their room, their friends and family and general environment. This would help provide an understanding as to what they value in their lives. Coloring exercises with crayons and a Barbie logo and a ‘dream party’ picture would help us gauge their color preferences as well as entertainment choices. Stickers and a doll cutout were included to inform fashion/design choices. Scissors (safe!) and glue were the last items to help them with the sticker exercises.

Future Work

We would have liked to include an exercise that made use of different kinds of fabric that would provide insights regarding texture choice.

Cultural probe


Barbie cutout