Understanding enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts

There are problems with involvement of inhabitants in open source smart homes. This chapter names these as enthusiast and non-enthusiast inhabitants. After this identification, the chapter analyzes the differences between their motivations and values. Their shared values and motivations are explored as well and turned into opportunities for this project. This chapter is built on knowledge gained through literature research, interviews and a contextmapping session.

Non-enthusiasts and enthusiasts


With an open source ecosystem, it takes a technical enthusiast to bring it into the home. They need to have a high level of technical literacy and be motivated to maneuver through a big swamp of smart home products. Those who meet these requirements are called the enthusiast.


Non-enthusiasts are the ones who do not intrinsically install smart home products. This will be most people, especially the other inhabitants of a smart home. Non-enthusiasts might still enjoy smart home products even when they would not install them. A non-enthusiast could also be a fellow inhabitant who simply wants lights and other appliances to turn on and off as expected.

Dynamic definitions

It’s important to note that these roles are not attached to specific people, they are more similar to an attitude. Over time the enthusiasm for smart homes might vary greatly. An analogy would be the car enthusiast who might be in a garage every weekend, but when they leave work, they will not enjoy fixing their car before getting home (figure 1).

A non-enthusiast might want to join in on the design, prototyping and testing fun during the weekends. Maybe not with the same level of involvement, but with appreciation nonetheless.

Figure 1:

Car enthusiasm is analogous to smart home enthusiasm.

Sessions and interviews

To learn about those involved and empathize with their positions, a contextmapping session was held and enthusiasts were interviewed.

Contextmapping session

The contextmapping session focused on the differences in perspectives of technology. Additionally the contextmapping discussed how people change their routines and what difficulties they run into. Four participants were selected, two had smart home devices and two had none at all. Sadly one of the participants was not mobile during the session and participated through skype, see figure 1. This turned out to have little impact on the session, see figure 2.

Figure 1:

The four participants during the creative session.

Figure 2:

The "good collaboration with technology" collage of the participant on Skype.

The session made use of contextmapping theory, such as sensitizing the participants with a booklet (figure 3) and developing a creative toolkit for the participant to help express themselves (Sleeswijk Visser, Stappers, & van der Lugt, 2007). Figures 4 shows what a participant created during the session. See appendix C for a complete overview of methods, tools and transcribed results.

Figure 3:

The filled booklets. Every page had a task for the day about their living environment.

Figure 4:

A timeline of a participant who changed a routine.

Enthusiast interviews

The enthusiasts in the contextmapping session did not have elaborate smart homes, nor did they live with other people. To uncover any tensions and to better understand their motivations, two enthusiast agreed to an interview. See appendix D for the transcriptions of these interviews.

What drives enthusiasts

When directly asking enthusiasts what their motivation is for rigging their homes, they respond in similar ways. They start with a prideful smile and will tell you how much fun they have when developing and seeing their work in action. This is then quickly followed by them explaining their joy when others acknowledge their work.

“It's super cool to do! When people come over, I'll show them what's possible!” ~ Enthusiast 2 “Every time it's enabled, I think to myself that it’s pretty cool. Also, when you have visitors, everyone says wow.” ~ Enthusiast 1

Their explanation contains infectious excitement and shows their motivations are more than just improving the efficiency of their life at home. To gain more insight in this excitement as a motivation, their behavior was described using self-determination theory.

Self-determination theory

SDT (self-determination theory) offers a very broad framework that allows for the study of motivation and personality ("selfdeterminationtheory.org - Theory,"). The most relevant takeaway from the framework for this project are the three core needs for intrinsic motivation. According to SDT, the human needs of competence, autonomy and relatedness foster the strongest form of motivation and engagement (figure 5).

In a simple form, autonomy is the desire to act based on one’s own interests and values, competence is the desire to control the environment and relatedness is the will to experience connection to others (Deci & Vansteenkiste, 2004).

Figure 5:

The three basic human needs (Deci & Vansteenkiste, 2004)


The most direct connection between enthusiasts and SDT is their desire for control over their environment. Smart homes offer a very direct environment on which control can be exerted, frequently making their competence visible. Additionally, this control does not come for free. As described in the previous chapter, setting up automations requires a considerable knowledge and time investment. It is worth noting that enthusiasts do need automations to work properly before they get their sense of competence. They are willing to make their automation simpler, if that works better.

“It offers another security layer. I put a lot of time into it!” ~ Enthusiast 2 (E2) “We ate on the couch and suddenly we were eating in the dark. So, I added another button to actually trigger it.” ~ E1


When asking enthusiasts what inspires their automations, they disregard outside sources as their main inspiration. This aligns with the need of autonomy in multiple ways. First, they solve specific problems that they find important.

“My inspiration I think of myself. I have looked at blogs. Generally, not that interesting.” ~ E2 “Normally just stuff that annoys me and I'll try to fix it.” ~ E1

At the same time, they do acknowledge the need to build on the work and knowledge of others. They have a vision for the development of their smart home and will also use fictional characters or other analogies to convey that vision.

“You always rely on something or someone.” ~ E3 “Small things I find very valuable.” ~ E1 “Jarvis can do everything, I want that this thing can do everything as well.” ~ E2


Another direct relation between enthusiasts and SDT is the experience they seek when showing others their work. It’s a moment of connection, while showcasing their competence.


All components needed for strong intrinsic motivations are present for enthusiasts. Smart homes are a place for enthusiasts to utilize their creative problem-solving skills. This explains their infectious excitement and willingness to spend a lot of time and money on automating seemingly small things in their home.

What shuns non-enthusiasts

It is clear the ingredients are in place to motivate enthusiasts. How does this relate to non-enthusiasts? What causes their general lack of motivation to learn new controls? When asked how they feel about smart homes and technology in general, they are more hesitant and request more context. After providing or describing their own context, they mention a fear of losing control and valuable experiences.

“I don't want it now, I turn it off.” ~ Non-enthusiast 1 “If technology did that for me, I would lose that experience.” ~ N2 “You do not dare to turn it off anymore.” ~ N2

To gain more insight, their position is also interpreted using SDT. But to get a better understanding of their loss of control, domestication of technology is introduced first.

Domestication of technology

Domestication describes the process of adapting technology into our daily lives and requires three steps. First, the user encounters the technology, then the user learns how to use the technology and finally they construct meaning and incorporate the technology in their practices (Sørensen, 1996). Figure 6 gives an example of this process.

Figure 6

The steps of domesticating technology:
1. A light switch is introduced in the home.
2. Interact with the switch a few times and understand how to use them.
3. Integrate the switch in your routines, use without thinking.

The example also shows how domestication can be reversed. By moving a switch or changing its behavior, a user will need to restart the domestication process. Introducing new technology properly while staying close to domesticated technology is also known as the MAYA (Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable) principle (Dam, 2018).

Competence and autonomy

This reversal of domestication negatively influences two needs described by SDT. When you are not able to turn a light on, which is incredibly well domesticated, it undermines your feeling of competence. You experience this as a loss of ability to control the very basics of your environment.

If you wish to restore your feeling of competence, you will need to domesticate a new technology. If the choice to change the light switch was not yours, the decision to learn something new was made for you. This affects the feeling of autonomy and in turn the motivation to learn this new thing.

“If I wanted to turn on a CD, I had to change four different settings, with three different remotes. I don't want to learn that. I don't want to do this.” ~ N2

On top of being coerced to adapt to this change, the non-enthusiasts also mentioned a fear of things changing again. This would require them to domesticate another technology quickly, possibly before fully domesticating the previous one.

“You need to be able to depend on it if it's going to help you.” ~ N1


Using domestication and SDT to frame the research findings provides a clear insight into why non-enthusiasts are hesitant to learn new controls. Non-enthusiasts do not get the choice in whether they want to change something or when they want to learn something. Additionally, they have no certainty that their effort will be useful for a longer period.

Tensions that arise

There is a stark contrast in the perspective of enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts, which can create quite some tensions. The enthusiast introduces the house to smartness, thus they are responsible for making it work well. The non-enthusiast is not in a position where they can change the system and this becomes an issue if the enthusiast is not taking their responsibility. These responsibilities can be identified at different times.

The moment something goes wrong

Automations are not perfect and sometimes need to be corrected. If it is a small mistake a non-enthusiast can easily correct, it will not be a large issue. If the non-enthusiast cannot correct this and the enthusiast needs to be involved, it immediately becomes a bigger issue. If the enthusiast is not around when this happens, the automation is not likely to survive this tension.

Implementing maintenance

After tension exists, it is important for the enthusiast to execute the maintenance needed to reduce the tension. If a mistake happens many times, the tension increases every time something goes wrong.

Additions to the smart home

When an enthusiast adds a new product or automation to the system, the non-enthusiast will likely need to learn about it. If previous tensions exist or the timing is unfavorable, the addition can easily create more tension. As enthusiasts tend to keep working on their systems, this can be a continuous source of annoyance.

Between users and technology

These tensions all happen between users because of the technology. Figure 7 shows the parties involved in the tensions. If any of their relations towards each other has issues, there is tension on the entire system.

Figure 7:

Triangle of tensions

Shared values

Now the differing perspectives and tensions are clear, it seems like there is a gigantic gap to bridge. Fortunately, the interviews and sessions also gave insights of shared values and ways to bridge the issues described.

Get it right

This is not so much a value, as much as it is a requirement for technology. In consumer products there is no room for device errors. When creating automations at home, it comes into the consumer product environment and must comply with this requirement.

“I hate when I do something, and it doesn't work.” ~ N2


Smart home technology should be aware of the person they are dealing with. Adaptions need to be made depending on what kind of user is involved, thus making it more personal.

“If it's a detective and discovers what I want, that would be great as well.” ~ E4


Smart home technology should not replace our core activities. The technology should be an addition that adds value to the activity.

“The technology is not running for him; the technology helps him to run.” ~ N2 “It needs to make your life more robust.” ~ E3


Technology in general should not seduce you into behavior you would not do without seduction. Intentions of technology should be clear and made without ulterior motives.

“I really hate the technology that makes you addicted to it.” ~ E1 “It should not make a difference between cultures or create inequality” ~ E3

Concluding: opportunities

With understanding of the motivations, tensions and values, many opportunities can be identified. It is clear the enthusiasts are intrinsically motivated and treat their smart home systems similar to a hobby project. The non-enthusiast can run into problems with basic usage of their homes. The enthusiasts cause these problems and the non-enthusiast have likely never asked for this. This causes tensions, as they might not even be equipped to deal with these problems. Luckily all these insights provide a lot of opportunities to shape or guide the design.

Preventing a loss of domestication

Making it easy for a non-enthusiasts to use a new smart home product is a given. This could be achieved by staying close to the experience they know well. This means crucial elements of the experience should be identified and consistently implemented for the non-enthusiasts.

An example of this is the chatbot one enthusiast developed for him and his girlfriend. This chatbot had an interface she was already familiar with and stayed the same as he continued development on the system. This provided her with a short domestication period and a reliable experience after that.

Clear boundaries of an automation

Another enthusiast had developed automations that started at incorrect times. Instead of disabling the automation, it is now manually enabled when needed. This creates a specific period in which certain behavior can be expected by someone who is aware of its use. This protects other inhabitants from unwanted behavior and creates clear boundaries of the automation.

Support the enthusiasts' responsibilities

It might be difficult for enthusiasts to keep up with their responsibilities, especially those of maintenance. An opportunity could be to support the enthusiast in their task of keeping up with maintenance and make sure they consistently squash tensions.

Implementing all shared values

As the enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts agree on the values personal, complementary and honest, it is an opportunity to implement these. When done well, both groups will, at least, appreciate those values.

Next chapter: Design scenarios