Sip of conflict

I’m not sure if this example will follow under the category of “industrial design” but it really helped me to look at things differently. Probably some of you are familiar with an iconic exhibit from the Exploratorium, “Sip of conflict”, where visitors are prompted to drink from a water fountain fashioned from an actual (but unused) toilet. The intention of the exhibit is to experience the tension between reason and emotion. What is wrong with drinking water from this fountain? How much does it matter its shape when you know for sure it is as clean as any other water fountain? I have some friends who were not able to do it. They were simply disgusted by the idea, and even watching me doing it made them feel uncomfortable. I feel this goes along with the point made by Sanders where she states that “experience is a constructive activity”, and Buchenau’s et al. assertion that “The experience of even simple artifacts does not exist in a vacuum but, rather, in dynamic relationship with other people, places and objects.” If I would have been by myself at the Exploratorium I might have struggled a little bit with myself before drinking the water, but being with my friends added a whole new level to the experience.

Additionally, “Sip of conflict” helped me to: a) be more aware of the psychological barriers that we impose on ourselves, and how hard it can be to overcome them (even with the help of logic), and b) rethink my assumptions about design (since there are no rules to be followed).

I believe this exhibit to be a very good example of inviting visitors to look at everyday objects in a different way, and challenging our presumptions and relationships with them (precisely the goal of the exhibit “Strangely familiar”).

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