Stephanie Tang Waldrop




The Invisible Weight of Cognitive Labor


Cognitive labor is the mental work it takes to run a home. This type of labor, separate from physical tasks, is a form of domestic labor that often goes unnoticed.

It is an invisible mechanism that shapes our home life and it has historically been excluded from research on topics related to dimensions of household work. Because of this, it is difficult to generate a full, nuanced account of the domestic work that occurs in our everyday lives.

This thesis uses design as a means to better visualize and make tangible this invisible facet of home labor.


Stephanie Tang Waldrop is a visual communication designer based in Seattle, Washington. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Prior to graduate school, she worked at IDEO, a global design consultancy, where she learned the value of making a positive impact through design.

As a graduate student, Stephanie has held teaching assistant positions in the School of Art + Art History + Design and the Human Centered Design + Engineering department. She is also a design researcher whose work is focused on how we might create new and alternative imaginaries of our smart home data. Her thesis work focuses on the invisible work of cognitive labor in the home and how we might make this work more tangible and visible for people in their households.


  • Audrey Desjardins, Chair
  • Jayme Yen
  • James Pierce


  • MDes, University of Washington, 2022
  • BA, Global Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara, 2007


  • 2021 – Gonzales Graduate Student Scholarship for Excellence in Design

Excerpt from commentary by Heidi Biggs

Gender equity may be a feminist anthem, but achieving it remains difficult due to the many invisible, compounding factors to equality that go unmeasured, ‘normalized’, or hard to describe. One of these factors is the invisible cognitive labor women do while taking care of a family, which Stephanie Waldrop de-invisibilizes in her thesis project. Stephanie became familiar with the term cognitive labor through the research of Allison Daminger, a PhD candidate in sociology at Harvard who studies gendered labor in the home. Cognitive labor, according to Daminger, is the outsized mental work that women do of worrying, remembering, and planning details as part of a family. A mother of two and member of a partnership, Stephanie could relate to the under-acknowledged mental labor of motherhood. For this reason, her research seeks to understand how this labor might be discussed, materialized, and unpacked by laypeople and couples who struggle with sharing and managing the inundation of mental tasks family life requires on a daily basis. 

Read full commentary.