Storytelling tableware to connect populations from two sides of conflict and humanize them to each other.

Thesis project, MFA in Design for Social Innovation

Team: Advisor: Archie Lee Coates IV

Role: Design strategy, research, project management, user experience, fabrication

Dates: June 2014 – May 2015


As someone who grew up in the shadow of the long intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, I wanted to take the opportunity of a design thesis project to examine where I, as a stakeholder, can challenge the status quo. I decided to investigate how a design thinking approach could be applied to a complex conflict situation and set out to see if and how design can overcome decades old barriers between populations in conflict – Israelis and Palestinians. Can the conflict be addressed as a design problem? can we successfully and intentionally design instruments of unification as we do for instruments of separation?


My initial research of existing communication systems such as Facebook and Twitter revealed the many gaps in the systems’ design in facilitating communication between populations in conflict. Simply put, I found that current social networks are poorly designed for the task.

Positive deviant projects that successfully facilitated sustainable relations between Israelis and Palestinians were based on  direct communication around mutual interests, but did not have many participants compared to the general population.

I therefore decided to focus on the largest common denominator, the similar food culture of both people. After a failed prototype of a dinner format, I realized the current gap is earlier on in the process – the big design problem isn’t about what happens at the table, it’s in the state people arrive at the table in. It was about designing an interface that would allow two different, even clashing narratives to co-exist and contain their tension.

I intentionally wanted to create a physical product and not a technological platform, since I wanted it to be an exercise in raw human experience, outside the filters of screens and algorithms.


I began by researching existing communication systems between Israelis and Palestinians from a technological, psychological and sociological perspective. I conducted interviews, surveys and observations with my target audience as well as subject matter experts from the peace building space. I prototyped a first iteration of the project, a dinner format, in Israel in January. After synthesizing insights I created a second iteration of the project, storytelling tableware, which I prototyped with NYC based Israelis and Palestinians.


My final product was storytelling tableware which serve as a communication system for transmitting and exchanging narratives across conflict borders, intentionally designed through components of physical and emotional experiences to be more humanizing, more intimate and generate empathy - as opposed to current mass communication systems which are generating the opposite result. 70 percent of my test users reported wanting to continue the exchanges they began through the project.