Encoded Behaviors: Gendered cognitive labor patterns in home assistant technologies

Research Probe — Task Exercise (Names were changed)


While our plethora of home appliances have assisted us in decreasing our physical output, the increased connectivity to products in our daily practices have, I argue, increased cognitive weight for women, especially now that more women are in the workforce. These devices do not directly address cognitive labor and may in fact increase a person’s cognitive load.

Insights on cognitive labor

Cognitive labor is difficult to measure and does not feel tangible.
Overall, through conversations in my interviews and more informal conversations with friends and peers, I found that cognitive labor can go unnoticed even for the person doing the work — the routines of remember to turn the lights off at night, or making sure that the coffee timer is set for a certain time to brew — those ingrained behaviors and routines, as Daminger writes, is “diffused” and difficult to quantify.

Insights on technology

Management of digital ecosystems and physical devices are forms of cognitive labor
A couple households I interviewed had fairly integrated smart devices in the home. The maintenance of these devices was sometimes an unanticipated chore if a smart device was not integrating properly with another device. For example, a Samsung smart fridge that calendar information would sometimes not integrate with their Google calendar. So not only is there cognitive work in managing schedules through these digital calendars, it is also a cognitive task to manage and maintain the devices that these digital ecosystems exist in. The domestic work of managing these devices will expand as our homes become ‘smarter’ with new devices and technological advancement.

Insights about cognitive labor and technology

Home assistant technology is imperfect but no other viable options
In my interviews, I asked participants why, if their devices didn’t perform as expected and frustrations arose, they continued to use them. One participant responded:


The design opportunities below are drawn from the insights I gathered over the course of my research and they are:


In the next quarter I will conduct design sprints aimed at generating design concepts for my final thesis work based on the design opportunities outlined above.


Some anecdotes from what I learned this quarter:



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Stephanie Waldrop

Stephanie Waldrop


Visual Designer + Master of Design Candidate at University of Washington.