Contextualizing Technology and Behavioural Change: The Case of the Dishwasher

“I want a dishwasher in my new kitchen,” a 32 year male corporate professional explained to his architect while discussing ideas for the interior design of his recently bought condominium in Gurgaon, India. This demand certainly appeared a bit quirky to the architect, who immediately started comparing the cost and convenience of getting dishes done by a domestic help to the cost of running a dishwasher. The home owner, on the other hand, had already decided the model of his new machine. After passionately cooking for six years in his American suburban apartment kitchen owing to the ease of use of modern technologies, the professional certainly missed this aspect of his life for the past two years after relocating to India. One of his biggest motivations for cooking came from the desire to have a clean kitchen, during and after the cooking process, which has not been possible since he moved back.

Hand-dishwashing: disappearing gradually in Indian kitchens

Technologies, such as dishwashers and incinerators, which are in-built into the design of American kitchens, not only make the process of cooking a lot easier, but also enable the users to keep their kitchen clean with minimal effort. For many young professionals, particularly the ones exposed to Western culture, the act of cooking is now becoming more and more about appreciating the process. The very same set of users are leaning towards open-planned kitchens in their new homes, another trend which has trickled down from the West and is on the rise in India owing to changing social dynamics.  Cooking meals and mixing drinks in the presence of guests have become a part of the socialization process. Many young Indian men have started cooking in their homes for pleasure as compared to a decade ago when they primarily cooked out of necessity as revealed through previous research. While the modern labour saving appliances in their kitchen makes the cooking process more pleasurable, the improved visual aesthetics of these spaces allow the users to entertain in these spaces without worrying too much about their social image being impacted by a dirty kitchen.

Many individuals living in urban India are now motivated to incorporate modern Western technologies, such as a dishwasher, which previously had no place in Indian homes. Technologies should not only influence behaviour at an individual level, rather behavioural change at a group level is required for technologies to meet their intended purpose. For instance, a dishwasher would fail in the Indian context if the guests are not motivated to clean their dishes and load them into a dishwasher. Likewise, if they forget to trash their waste using an incinerator, the entire purpose of having one-to prevent others from cleaning up someone else’s mess and keeping the space stink free- would be defeated. Directly transplanting a technology into a new cultural context may be problematic as it may not necessarily promote similar behaviours, thus defeating the purpose of their use. Contextualizing technologies can no longer be only limited to motivating users to adapt to a new technology. It should be expanded to promote desired behaviours, which may not be possible otherwise in a new cultural context.

Innovators today have an increased focus towards contextualizing technologies that are addressing grand challenges related to health and other ‘serious’ issues in India. However, they may not be motivated enough to think about home appliances in the same light. While the Sumeet mixer grinder, introduced in the Indian market in the early 1960’s, was one such attempt, we have not seen more of such examples.  With a plethora of Western home appliances invading the Indian market and the increasing number of users who have previously used these products in Western contexts, Indian designers would have to give even deeper thought to contextualizing these products in order to ensure that they meet their intended purpose. If one of the goals of user-centered innovation is to improve everyday lives, innovators might have to reorient their focus towards home appliances as they occupy a significant part of the daily lives of Indian consumers.

About Ekta Ohri

Ekta Ohri has a background in Architecture, Visual and Critical Studies, and Anthropology and is interested in exploring links between design, culture, and lived experience.
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