Making by making strange: Defamiliarization and the design of domestic technologies

Genevieve Bell*, Mark Blythe, Phoebe Sengers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

274 Citations (Scopus)


This article argues that because the home is so familiar, it is necessary to make it strange, or defamiliarize it, in order to open its design space. Critical approaches to technology design are of both practical and social importance in the home. Home appliances are loaded with cultural associations such as the gendered division of domestic labor that are easy to overlook. Further, homes are not the same everywhere - even within a country. Peoples' aspirations and desires differ greatly across and between cultures. The target of western domestic technology design is often not the user, but the consumer. Web refrigerators that create shopping lists, garbage cans that let advertisers know what is thrown away, cabinets that monitor their contents and order more when supplies are low are central to current images of the wireless, digital home of the future. Drawing from our research in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Asia, we provide three different narratives of defamiliarization. A historical reading of American kitchens provides a lens with which to scrutinize new technologies of domesticity, an ethnographic account of an extended social unit in England problematizes taken-for-granted domestic technologies, and a comparative ethnography of the role of information and communication technologies in the daily lives of urban Asia's middle classes reveals the ways in which new technologies can be captured and domesticated in unexpected ways. In the final section of the article, we build on these moments of defamiliarization to suggest a broad set of challenges and strategies for design in the home.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-173
Number of pages25
JournalACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2005
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Making by making strange: Defamiliarization and the design of domestic technologies'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this