Thirst is essential for us to know when to get hydrated. Over time our species has been able to move beyond only the need to drink and provide new options desired or helpful to drink. These include various nonalcoholic drinks, alcoholic drinks, health or vitamin drinks, and medicines. The use of thirst as a sense to convey information, sustenance, and vehicle for better health is superior to many other senses because we are able to ingest the substance to be sated or improved. Hunger is similar to thirst in many ways, but its physiological mechanics are different, and though smell affects taste, that sense is not very useful to satisfy the body, instead it is better to warn or report on the chemicals of the items that might be ingested.
Moving beyond the physical requirements forced on us by our environment, humans have had the luxury to explore the senses, including thirst, for pleasure and not just for requirement. This freedom allowed many new ways to utilize our body’s natural desires and interests, so we can now use thirst for entertainment and interest without worrying about survival. Although we do not have full control over the experience of thirst, we do have control over what we are willing and able to drink. Water is always great, but now we can drink tea, coffee, juice, and alcohol. These new forms of drink provide hydration to some extent, but they also have new substances that please our body.
Again, we don’t have full control over when we have thirst, but we can predict its occurrence, and we can even provoke and prod the sense by using forms of encouragement, including others drinking and advertisements. Because nearly all forms of drink are socially acceptable, except alcohol, we can experience the sense of thirst in nearly any situation or location with various liquids. This makes thirst a great sense for the designer to encourage, and because there are so many allowable places for the drinking, the designer can pervade with the desired intent in nearly all locales. As such, thirst is a great sense to explore.
Thirst when experienced with its primary intent is not enjoyable and urges the individual to search and imbibe water. The sense in this way is extreme and necessary to sustain life. However, when we are able to have access to sufficient water, we can have lesser forms of thirst. These may seem strong, though they are not comparable to that for one who is truly parched. Instead, the sense of thirst is a motivator to try something that is enjoyable, not just necessary. Though some may think these other forms of thirst are necessary, they are really an opportunity for those making and arguably designing the liquids to provide some purpose or intent. This should be kept in mind when using the sense for a particular application.
Thirst is a very personal, individual sense that relates to the needs of the body. This sense of thirst is different than most other senses because it is not to explore and understand the environment, instead it is originally to ensure the individual lives and succeeds. In this way, really only the sense of hunger and time are similar. However, there are many other senses that are personal, such as most forms of touch, but they may not have the same urgency as the sense of thirst and hunger. Another sense that can be said to be like thirst and hunger is the sense of smell which augments the experience of drinking and eating, although smell utilizes chemicals that expand in a space. In any case, the designer should use the sense of smell in the exploration of thirst to have a rounder, fuller experience.
As mentioned, thirst can be said to be similar to hunger, touch, and smell, although it is very different than the senses of vision and hearing or sound. Vision can be said to be necessary, but other senses can be used in lieu of it, and it requires a degree of distance and is not a personal sense that can only be sensed by the individual. Furthermore, sound has the same characteristics as vision, although we can hear internal sounds and processes. In any case, we can use the sense of vision and sound to encourage thirst, such as seeing the desirable drink or others ingesting a beverage and hearing the sound of a canned drink being opened or the fizz of a carbonated beverage. In this way, vision and sound are great ways to entice the user in a design installation.