Hunger is a sense that is triggered by a complex interplay of hormones and other signaling molecules in the body. When the body’s energy stores, such as glycogen in the liver, are depleted, the hormone ghrelin is released from the stomach. This hormone travels to the brain and stimulates neurons in the hypothalamus to initiate the sensation of hunger. Besides ghrelin, leptin and other hormones can regulate the sense of hunger by signaling to the brain when the body has enough energy and does not need to eat.
The sense of hunger, like thirst, is a physiological response to a need for sustenance. There is an urgency to relieve this experience in order to be well nourished. Although the sensation of hunger is less pronounced than that of thirst, this sense must be accommodated in order to survive. To be hungry is not only about the need for food, but the need for healthy, useful food. One can eat a bag of chips and still feel hungry, because the food lacks nutritional needs. One may feel the sense of hunger even if the stomach is full. Hunger pairs well with the sense of taste, but the designer may very likely use thirst also when designing for hunger.
Although it is not a comfortable feeling, hunger is a very important sense that provides a warning and alarm when we need to eat. Similar to thirst, the sense of hunger may be brought on by influence from others or acknowledgement of fine tasting foods. This is different than true hunger, but the designer can use these other forms that hunger brings in order to design a project. No one wants to be hungry, and so this is not a sense we seek out. For this reason, we should be very careful when using the sense. However, the introduction of hunger can really make a statement in design, as very few, if any, designers have used it in previous projects.
Nearly any animal has the sense of hunger, and it surely developed through time and evolution to let its host focus on gaining food, instead of whatever other needs and desires were being addressed. In this way, it is a very important sense, because it does not allow the individual to die of starvation, even with the many stimuli harrying that person in the environment. This seems ridiculous from our perspective because we have the sense, however surely one that does not experience the sense of hunger must be monitored in order to not pass on from lack of food.
We experience hunger when we have not met our nutritional needs. This is likely before or in lieu of a meal, so it is likely we would experience hunger in the morning, midday, and evening, if we follow a typical eating schedule. We might have this sense of hunger after a great deal of exercise, because we have burned so many calories, and we want to gain back what we have lost. Another time is when we see others eating. The external context may either be accidental or happenstance, or it may be because of propaganda and intention. Finally, another reason for hunger is because of poor eating habits, where the individual eats a lot of junk food, or they are lacking some specific nutrients either because of environmental conditions or poor choices.
Hunger can happen anywhere, especially if one of the conditions listed above occurs. However, the sense of hunger is really related to time, rather than to space, at least in most cases. But, hunger is brought on by food availability, access, or nutritional content. In this way, we can argue that hunger is related to location in specific instances.
The sense of hunger is uncomfortable and possibly even painful, and it is experienced on an individual basis. A group will not be hungry all at once, unless they have had the same experience throughout the day, so it is a personal and individual sense that is similar to many of the forms of touch, taste, and thirst. The sense of hunger is not broadcast, like those of smell, sound, and vision. So, there is a clear divide between the personal senses and the shared senses. In addition, hunger has the need or alarm of thirst, which the forms of touch do not, besides nociception. However, hunger shares the experiential thrill of touch in that the presence of the sense awakens the body to action.
Some may say we should not use the sense of hunger in a design, but hunger brings motivation to find food, and gives the individual an opportunity to partake in eating new or interesting foods that sate the appetite. The designer can set up the conditions and carry the visitor just long enough to be too ravenous to enjoy some food. To ensure the sense is brought about, we can design the environment to burn calories, encourage hunger, or provide a sympathetic response where the visitor sees others eating. Furthermore, the introduction of this sense provides an opportunity to use the sense of taste to satisfy the urge and cravings.
As with the sense of thirst and some of our other senses, hunger is not an enjoyable experience. However, we can use the sense to drive us toward something else, hopefully something of sustenance. When we have hunger we want to not only be sated, but we would also like to explore the sense of taste, at least when we are not starving. In this way, the designer can set up an installation that drives the visitor toward some objective of the designer’s, especially if the destination includes food. We cannot force the visitor to be hungry, but we can help push toward the sense with environmental changes, others with the sense of the desire to enjoy delectable items, some through a form of malnutrition, or with time. The designer should use the sense to urge the visitor toward some object or goal.
In order to drive the visitor, we must set up the environment where comfort may be present, but there is still a wanting. In fact, it would be good for the visitor to not have distractions away from the sense of hunger, which would act as a stand in before the feeling is satisfied. However, we want those visiting the design project to desire to stay at least long enough to fulfill the design intentions, so the space likely should not be solely about hunger and fulfillment. In this way, there is a balance necessary to keep the user in the space while encouraging a sense that is not completely positive. Unlike most of the other senses, it is not suggested that we start with a blank slate and build up the sense up, especially because it is innate or existing within the individual. As such, it is up to the designer to determine what is a good pairing with the sense of hunger. As mentioned before, there are several that are top of mind, such as the senses of taste, thirst, and smell. But, we could also pair the sense with vision as it can help induce hunger possibly by viewing imagery of food that is tasty or to evoke an environment that is hungry.
To invoke or promote hunger, we need to condition the visitor to have an open mind and be sympathetic to the needs or introduction of hunger. This might be through one of the situations listed above or it might be an invitation to spend more time or expend more energy within the design to naturally come to the experience of hunger. In this way, we need a space that can be sustained for long periods of time, and we will also need other items to provoke the sense. These other items are to stimulate the mind and other senses to bring hunger. Such of these include actual food, likely attractive and hopefully with enjoyable aromas. Likewise, we can use perfume, scents, or other forms that provide odor that might be enjoyable, such as the smell of fruit or baked goods. Visuals and imagery are also helpful, and these and the previous items need to have a place within the design project. This could be front and center, like advertisements for food or the condition, or it could be served like a buffet or social gathering. As mentioned with thirst, the design may not be solely about the sense of hunger, and this sense may impel the visitor toward some other portion of the design. Could the food be an objective within the design, hidden and meant to be found? Would it be better to make those experiencing the design to work or wait for the introduction of food, et cetera, instead of releasing it on the front end.
Hunger is an interesting sense because it is very real, but it can also be imagined or brought forth by the mind. In addition, there are different forms of hunger that include lack of any food, lack of food with nutritional value, and a purely imagined or sympathetic desire to be full or fulfilled. So, there is a real hunger for any form of sustenance, a real hunger for nutrition, and imagined hunger, whether brought on by stimuli or through sympathy or desire.
Hunger is a strong solution for design because it is visceral and very real, experienced and extremely hard to be ignored by the user. In addition, the sense can be used with other senses to create a compilation of experience that can act like chords or multiple instruments in music, where the experience can vary and change, depending on the state of the visitor and the elements themselves.
To use the sense of hunger, the designer should first remove from reach any way to sate the desire to eat. With this, the visitor is tempted and taunted, hopefully quickening the arrival of hunger. The sense is not one of pleasure, and the design does not have to be comfortable, as long as there is no harm and there is a purpose for the discomfort. Furthermore, the designer should provide other sensory cues and plays to heighten the experience. These additional cues can be related to hunger, but they can also be other, varying senses that are complementary to hunger. It is important that the visitor has the experience, but is not so displeased that it is necessary to exit the project. How can the designer cause the unease but not push others away? Surely, this is a very delicate balance which will provide a more memorable experience. We might think that the surprise of displeasure adds weight to the impression of the installation. Happiness or contentment is what we usually strive for in design, and what a surprise it would be to convey discomfort. However, to avoid being considered perverse or inconsiderate, the designer must have a very clear intent and use the senses to meet that objective. For this reason, the design should be well thought out, drawn and reviewed, before any physical part of the design is produced. Doing this will focus the intent and avoid waste, both of material and time.
If a design were only hunger, then the visitor must be coerced into first experiencing such, then thinking about its presence, and finally analyze why this is the case. Because of the novelty of a design exploring the sense of hunger, the visitor might be thrown off first, so the designer must provide some stability or comfort in the discomforting experience of hunger. If the design had no other elements, the mind would go directly to and focus on the effects of the sense of hunger. Surely, the visitor would wonder what the thesis of the design project is, but then the experience would pull the thought and discourse toward an interpretation of the sense event, filling the open space within the void of the lack of knowing. The individual will place meaning on the experience, especially if there is little or no prior knowledge about the project. Finally, with time and a subsiding of the shock or curiosity of the experience, the visitor will likely try to understand why such interpretations were created, linking points and ideas in the use of the sense of hunger. In this way, different forms of knowledge can be achieved by the visitor, simply by focusing on only one sense.
If the design did not incorporate hunger, the visitor would not be surprised at all, since most designs do not explore this sense. So, there would be little gained by highlighting the lack of the sense. This is unlike the absence of other senses, like vision or hearing, because to be without either or both of these, to the average person, would be bizarre and shocking. So, the same effect is not likely to occur with the removal of the sense of hunger.
Using the sense of hunger as an experience can provide a designed unease, but this discomfort can be for the exploration and education about such effects to others in the population and abroad who are not so fortunate to think of hunger as alien. In addition, the sense can also be a proxy, in place of another experience that could be much more discomforting. The experience of hunger could be in lieu of true pain and represent harm or loss of life. What are non-positive experiences or actions that can be shown through the use of hunger?
Using hunger in an existing structure would likely be very similar to using thirst. The designer could use the context and signifiers to induce a sense of hunger while moving through the space, and it would be a stronger relationship if the experience could rise and fade with some rhythm as the visitor works through the space. As with thirst, the designer should mark the specific points in the assembly and match them with the design intent. So, like with any design project, every part should be planned and drawn out to ensure the objectives are met, especially because the senses can be considered qualitative, allowing subjectivity into the experience. As such, if not careful, the design can miss the mark because the sense experiences could be mistranslated.