This fountain is connected to money currency rates on the internet. It is realtime! Refreshed every five seconds. This mobile fountain measures 5x4x3 meters. The relation between money and water is evident. On our datafountain we display the Yen, Euro and Dollar (¥€$). Currency rates are closely interconnected; their interdependence is visible in water. The design of the casing was kept as minimal as possible. The water is the thing to look at and listen to.
Is information technology putting us constantly under pressure or could it also have a calming effect? There are many examples of technologies that bring us comfort. There is no less technology involved in a comfortable pair of shoes or in a fine writing pen, than in a computer display. Good technology isnt experienced as technology at all . Could this also be realized in the world of displays?
In natural situations the availability of information is often very well regulated. Consider the weather as an example. During the day you are more or less aware of the state of the weather. Before you go out you explicitly decide if you need an umbrella. Implicitly, you already knew whether the umbrella question was relevant. Imagine that you were completely unaware of the weather and had to check a website to find out if you need an umbrella when you leave your house. Sounds absurd? Still, this is the model in which information is often presented to us. Some data you continuously want to have available in your environment. Not in the centre, but rather at the border of your attention focus.
We are fascinated with fountains, as a phenomenon. You find them on squares, in gardens, or even indoors on tabletops. Usually a fountain is placed in a space for aesthetic reasons. Despite of the fact that they are artificially made, people associate fountains with a sense of naturalness, We find this intriguing. A fountain is perceived as a source of quietude, not stress. People experience a fountain as a pleasant object in their environment. This quality makes it a suitable object for calm technology . We propose the term information decoration for displays techniques that aim for a balance between esthetics and informational value.
The goal of the datafountain project is to re-think fountains as information displays. We equip fountains with a control that can vary the height of the water jet. Through an Ethernet connection and a frequency modulator the fountain pumps are controlled. The fountain will function as a calm display. It can display the latest trafficnews, remote weatherconditions, train departure times, the amount of people waiting in line at a postoffice, etc. Or, depending on the context in which the fountain is placed, more personal data like the amount of email in your inbox or the distance between yourself and your lover.
Of course fountains that vary their spouting pattern already exist. The waterballet is well known. But always, an emotional value of some sort (often music) is translated into the emotional value of the fountain. The notion of displaying explicit information onto the fountain is new. The aesthetic value of the fountain display is a huge benefit in information design. Its presence wont bother people who are not interested in the data; information decoration instead of information push.
When we see a fountain in public space, we always wonder what its spraying pattern tells us. It is our future goal to design more contextual datafountains and also to re-think existing fountains as information displays. Perhaps in the future, it will be considered rude to place a fountain in public space that has nothing to say. The information displayed on the fountain will become part of a discussion about the design of public space. The context plays an important role in the communicational value; a fountain in front of a metro station will probably means something different than a fountain in front of a stock exchange.
It was our goal to display a general ‘feeling’ of the relation between the different currencies in the water jets. The currency exchange rates are available with a four digit precision (0.0000). We retrieved them from an online source every five seconds. Within this short time spam, the currency rates alteration is generally very small or zero. The larger changes in the currency rates are a result of many micro fluctuations that happen over time. Through a short user survey we learned the perceived strength of a monetary value is derived from both the long term relation between the currencies, as well as daily fluctuations. At first we tried a linear mapping of the currency rates onto the fountain jets. Due to their smallness, the micro fluctuations became invisible. The result was a fountain that changed slowly over a few days time. This didn’t satisfying us so we decided to try a more sensitive mapping. Now the micro fluctuations were visible but took precedence over the long term development. This resulted in a very noisy and seemingly randomly moving fountain. We wanted to display both the long term development, as well as micro fluctuations to control the height of the fountains. In the final design the basic level of the fountains is derived from the longer term development of the currency rates. This basic level changes slowly over time. In addition to that we exaggerate the micro fluctuations with temporary ‘jumps’ and ‘drops’ of the water jets. The jumps and drops generate the lively expression of the real time trading taking place. For instance, if the Dollar rises on a certain day, the dollar-jet will make many upwards jumps throughout the day. This is perceived as an optimistic (rising) dollar.
Below you see pictures of the design and production process of the datafountain, as well as some evidence of the fun we had during the datafountain production process.
If you want to learn more about the construction datafountain, you can view this PDF document. For a movie of our first tiny interactive fountain (968kb) a movie of the first real size working model (1.8Mb) and an animation movie of the frame construction (933kb).
The datafountain is just one example of information decoration, one could think of many other applications such as datawallpaper, dataplants, datafurniture, datasoundsand dataclimate that can be implemented.
Currently many digital information appliances force people to retrieve information from sources that are not attuned to our human physical bandwidth at all. Information decoration is an alternative, more calm and open way of data representation. The environment becomes the interface again .
The Japanese television station NTV made a short film about the datafountain in which the viewers had to guess the Amazing Mystery that makes the fountain so special. They didn't guess it, but still the video is kind of entertaining. You can download a fragment of the video (13 mb windows media) there is also a smaller flash version(9mb, swf) .
¥€$, we googled ourselves. Below is a selection of things written about the datafountain project.
Concept: Koert van Mensvoort MSc MFA / Design & Construction: DE212 Industrial Design, Benjamin Voss, Charles Mignot, Rik Wesselink, Ronald Schipperen, Roy Damgrave, Koert van Mensvoort / Embedded hardware: ir. Arian van Dorsten, JWA Systems / Web interface: Drs. Jan Willem Nienhuis / Realtime currencyrates: MMB / Frame welding: LBW / Fountain Advice: V.O.F. de Fontijn.
Questions? Want to get it in your garden? For inquiries about the datafountain contact Koert.com.
"In the park next to my home is a fountain. I can see it from
my window. Day in day out it sprays its water in the same boring fashion,
no information in there. I connected this fountain to the cell phone of
my secret lover. The fountain now sprays high when she's in neighborhood
and low when she's far away. It sprays wild when she is receiving many
phone calls. Not spraying at all when her phone is off. People in the
neighborhood think it's just a randomly programmed fountain, but they
are not into ambient information like I am."