Crucially, they have also recognized the need to take into account of the way in which stoves are actually used.

The “they” in that sentence refers to scientists and engineers (from the Economist), in reference to designing improved stoves for the 3 billion or so people who depend on biomass cooking stoves.

The universality of want for this reflection - how a thing is actually used - cannot be overstated. It’s a product of what I would call a normative bias. The normative bias is, in this description at least, a bias toward mental models based on how we idealize the world or how we think things ought to work. Building realistic models of the world is hard. Let’s go shopping!.

So much design, be it aesthetic or technological, is built around the designers faulty ideal of the user and her environment. In the case of biomass stoves, what kind of fuel are people actually using? How do they actually cook? If you design to your own baseline the product will be a failure for the end user, no matter how superior it is in principle. See, people can’t cook their food with principles, anymore than you can help computer users with an obviously superior interface that isn’t based on actual users.

The point of the Economist article is that engineers are now building better stoves have taken into account of how they are used. Keep in mind this bias when people suggest improvements in a domain you have knowledge about and you’ll quickly see how endemic the normative bias really is.