In a nutshell
Whenever you try to fix a problem, other problems will always arise and haunt you. And OPR is such an interactive installation. It will invoke an unsatisfying feeling from people who interact with it.
OPR stands for three different words - optimism, pessimism, and realism, which describe users' phycological stages when playing with the installation.
Designing an interactive environment for a public space is always a hard task. To come up with a pre-defined behavior is easy but to design an intelligently responsive kinetic system is difficult. Other tricky problems include making it durable enough as many people would interact with it and making sure it blends naturally with the surroundings in aesthetics.
We built an interactive "wall" on the 9th floor of the Jockey Club Innovation Tower, home of the PolyU Design School. The design style is consistent with the architecture, which makes it natural to become part of the environment.
When users come to the wall, they will find that one pillar is popping out. But when they try to fix it by pushing it back, one or even multiple pillars will either fall off or pop out from the wall. No matter how many times and how hard they try, they can never push all the pillars in to make a perfect wall.
"OK, I get it. I can never ﬁx it."
At the beginning, we wanted to design an interactive installation that is abnormal, illusory, naughty, tricky and weird. After getting inspiration from a viral video created by Parallel Studio named "unsatisfying" (see right), we were all fond of the idea of designing something that renders tribute to disappointment.
So we checked nearly all the "unsatisfying" videos and pictures on social media websites hoping to get inspirations. We also asked people to talk about their experience of tiny defeats in life which lead to face-palming frustration.
Finally, we decided to build something that bugs people so much that they want to fix it immediately after seeing it, but will never be able to achieve that.
We tried different forms and interactions and finally went for the simplest one that fits in the space naturally - a 1.6*2m black wall with 80 white pillars built into it, with the interaction mode of pushing in and picking up.
We adopted a chain track belt system since the pillars are heavy and could not be pushed out by other relatively weak mechanisms. InfraRed sensors were installed to detect which pillar is pushing in by the user.
A delay of 3 seconds will be randomly activated by one of the six unfixed pillars to "cheat" users by giving them a temporary sense of accomplishment.
We did three rounds of user testing and got positive feedback from most of our users. They said they couldn't stop playing it because the one popping out bugged them so much. They also understood the meaning of the installation and some even explained to us before we explained to them. That surprised us a lot.
Meanwhile, we found two major problems with the installation. If two or more people pushed the pillars at the same time, the programmed mechanism would fail to recognize how many and which pillars were being pushed in. Another problem happened when users push the pillars too hard, the motor driving the chain track belt would break.