Home Futures

Home Futures: Domestic Textiles and Decision Making
Client:  PDD Human-Centred Design

‘The chief benefit of the house
[is that] the house shelters daydreaming,
the house protects the dreamer,
the house allows one to dream in peace’
(Bachelard 1958 The Poetics of Space)

Too often, product and service design does not manage to bridge approaches to design opportunities (which can become quite abstract or functional) with the sensory, aesthetic, intimate and experiential aspects of everyday life.

The Home Futures Project explores how, in the context of changing kinds of households across the world, families are making decisions as a group about their homes and home-making.

For a variety of reasons across the world, many households are becoming more varied in form. In some countries and places, there is a tendency towards multi-generational households in which three or more generations of one family live together. One way to think about this is arising from socio-structural por politico-economic developments: for example be due to higher home costs, financial restrictions for the younger generation, different commitments of parents to their children, institutional renting arrangements, migratory work within family networks, or for other reasons. Alternatively, and in parallel, we can think about this as a design issue: how are decisions about home and the making of home being made and communicated in new ways between people and between generations? The problematic of ‘future homes’ is both about macro-trends and micro design decisions.

This situation evokes particular questions which are relevant to product and service design:

  • What is ‘home’ in these circumstances and how is it constructed?
  • What are the unfolding sensations of future homes?
  • How do future homes create relationships between the generations, and shape family?
  • How can designers think about and work with the experiences of homes, using ethnographic work for design work?

We worked with 14 households across 5 countries, and developed insights into three broad kinds of family or relationships in the household group (traditional, temporary and community).

The research firstly tackled broad opinions about home. It then focussed specificallyn upon textiles in the homes. Through the stories of textiles and surfaces, it developed an understanding of moments of intersection of the sensory experience of home (in textiles, which help ‘sculpt’ the visual, acoustic, olfactory and other aspects of the home), the relationship of generations (some domestic textiles commonly relate to family inheritance), and the values of home.

We specifically explored the intersection of four emergent themes:

  • Sensoriality
  • Relationships
  • Values
  • Temporality and Decision-Making

These four themes began to tell a story. Through examining the ‘grammar’ of textile Sensoriality, we gained an idea of home which led towards an exploration of the kinds of Relationships in each home, and what constituted these relationships. The relationships strongly informed the kinds of emotional, conceptual and material Values around domestic textiles. Such values came to be very prominent in examining the Temporal landscapes of home, by which people situated themselves in time and had a sense of making decisions about homes, and also of their homes shaping who they were over time.

Some brief examples of insights from the ethnography are given below – each is short, and could be explained at length, but provides an idea of the work.  Overall, they show how the development of ‘home’ through textiles creates a complicated overlapping ecosystem of unfolding temporality and decisions for a household group.





Temporality and Decision-Making


Time Decisions2


Textiles are here revealed as fantacticallly important in being the point of articulation between bodies and homes. They provide for the surfaces of the home, and the experience of home, much as skin provides the surface of the body.

An ethnography of the home which explores the multitude of intersecting textiles produces an understanding of a very complex ecosystem of different objects and values. The multitude of objects, senses and stories is overwhelming.

WThree key sets of products were produced from the ethnographic work:

  1. An Analysis of the themes, illustrating how the dimensions of sensoriality, relationships, values and temporality intersect to help understand how material homes come to be active within decision-making.
  2. A set of Product Concepts which illustrated the opportunities arising in the research: we entitled these Dust Sofa, Temporal Curtains, Memory Blanket, and Sound-Absorbing Chair.
  3. A Design Game to help explore the complexities of this kind of work. Our ‘Textile Decision-Making Cards’ presented textiles from peoples’ homes on one side, twinned with questions on the other. The questions were chosen to bridge the issues of social research, and the issues which might be asked by a product designer working to find new issues to design for. Hence the cards might be used either as ‘entry points’ into the ethnographic data; or they might be used to try to inspire new design questions, and challenge a designer to reconsider what they think an object, sensation or experience ‘means’.




Work Conducted by: Marti Janse van Rensburg, Siqi Sun, Nicola Dillon, Jing Guo

In Collaboration with: Sarita Wilkinson, Heather McQuaid, PDD

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: