2012年12月17日 星期一

week 13. ambiguity as a resource for design

Ambiguity as a resource for design

1. P. 233

Ambiguity  of
information finds its source in the artefact itself, ambiguity
of context in the sociocultural discourses that are used to
interpret  it,  and  ambiguity  of relationship in  the
interpretative and evaluative stance of the individual.

2. Instead of regarding ambiguity as a problem, however, in
this paper we suggest that it can be seen as an opportunity.
Ambiguity can be frustrating, to be sure. But it can also be
intriguing,  mysterious,  and  delightful.


But in the many emerging
applications for everyday life, we argue that ambiguity is a
resource that designers should neither ignore nor repress.


Allowing  this  ambiguity  to  be  reflected  in
design has several advantages.
Most importantly, it allows
designers to engage users with issues without constraining
how they respond.
In addition, it allows the designer’s
point  of  view  to  be  expressed  while  enabling  users  of
different  sociocultural  backgrounds  to  find  their  own
Finally, ambiguity can make a virtue out
of  technical  limitations  by  providing  the  grounds  for
people’s interpretations to supplement them.

(1) Sloganbench + Imagebank
(2) Desert Rain
(3) The Pillow
(4) Home Health Monitor

5. p. 235

ambiguity ranges from the limited  ability  of  sensors  to
monitor  home  activities  to  the  relationship  between
measurable  variables  and  emotional  ones,  and  from  the
vague  language  used  by  most  horoscopes  to  the
juxtaposition  of  electronic  technology  with  culturally
suspect  ‘fortune-telling.’


Most importantly, they highlight the fact that ambiguity is
a property of the interpretative relationship between people
and artefacts.  This  distinguishes  ambiguity  from  related
concepts  such  as  fuzziness  or  inconsistency:  these  are
attributes of things, whereas ambiguity is an attribute of
our  interpretation  of  them.

Things  themselves  are  not
inherently ambiguous.  They may  give  rise  to  multiple
interpretations depending on their  precision,  consistency,
and  accuracy  on  the  one  hand,  and  the  identity,
motivations, and expectations of an interpreter on the other.


This interpretative relationship is the source of ambiguity’s
appeal:  by  thwarting (反對)  easy  interpretation,  ambiguous
situations require people to participate in making meaning.

(1) Ambiguity of information
(2) Ambiguity of context
(3) Ambiguity of relationship

8. p. 237

In summary, the three kinds of ambiguity raise different
sorts  of  problem  and  ask  for  different  sorts  of
interpretation.  Ambiguity of information asks us to project
our  expectations  into  an  interpretation  of  incomplete
information.  Ambiguity of context requires an integration
of seemingly incompatible frames of reference.  Ambiguity
of  relationship,  finally,  evokes  a  projection  of  our
subjective experiences and attitudes onto new situations.

Enhancing ambiguity of information
(1) Use imprecise representations to emphasise uncertainty.

Imprecise  displays  such  as  these  are  often  described  as
ambient’,  but  they  are  ambiguous  as  well.  This
ambiguity, we believe, is crucial for  understanding  their
appeal:  they may be perceptually undemanding, but they
require users  to  fill  in  the  gaps  in  information  that  is
purposefully imprecise.  When successful, such interfaces
are  not  only  aesthetically  attractive,  but  conceptually
appealing as well.
 (2) Over-interpret data to encourage speculation.

The design equivalent of gross exaggeration (e.g.
“I’ve been working on this  paper  for  a  million  years”),
over-interpretation  is  best  used  to  draw  attention  to
possible truths rather than simple untruths.

 (3) Expose inconsistencies to create a space of interpretation.

Inconsistent information from interfaces can also encourage
interpretative  engagement.  For  example,  the  Imagebank
used in the Projected Realities system sometimes showed
multiple, inconsistent images (e.g.  a  quiet  family  scene
next  to  a  protest  march)  to  reflect  inconsistent  slogans
appearing on the  Sloganbenches.

(4) Cast doubt on sources to provoke independent assessment.

Creating ambiguity of Context

(1) Implicate (暗示)  incompatible contexts to disrupt preconceptions.

Though  none  of  our  introductory  design  examples
implicate  incompatible  contexts  as  powerfully  as
Duchamp’s Fountain, all use this tactic to some degree in
interrupting an easy interpretation.  
The Sloganbenches are
not quite public furniture or public displays, and treating
them simply as one or the other is problematic (sitting on
them  blocks  the  displays;  viewing  the  displays  blocks
(2) Add incongruous (不一致) functions to breach (破壞) existing genres.

Adding  new  functions  to  designs  can  sometimes  move
them out of their ‘home’ genres.  From this perspective,
the  conceptual  origin  of  the  Sloganbenches  as  public
furniture  is  apparent,  but  they  have become  something
different through  the  addition  of  the  scrolling  displays.

(3) Block  expected  functionality  to  comment  on  familiar

Perhaps the purest example  of  blocking  functionality  to
achieve ambiguity of context is Sarah Pennington’s design
of a mobile phone  cover  that  has  no  ‘call’  or  ‘receive’
buttons.  The phone is transmuted into a device that can
only signal when somebody is trying to call: the owner
can’t  pick  up  or  make  calls.  Through  this  simple
modification, Pennington disrupts our reading of the phone
as  a  communications  device,  creating  instead  a  rather
plaintive reminder of separation.  But the  result  doesn’t
escape its origin as a phone: it is simultaneously phone and
not-phone, and this ambiguity is central to its effect.

Provoking ambiguity of relationship

(1)  Offer unaccustomed roles to encourage imagination.

Dunne’s  Pillow  [7]  is  a  seminal  example  of  applying
ambiguity of relationship to electronic products.  Culling
electromagnetic  information  from  sources  that  might
include mobile phone calls or baby  monitors,  it  entices (誘使)
people to assume a  voyeuristic (窺淫狂者的)  role  amid the  airwaves.
(2) Point out things without explaining why.

For  example,  the  rationale  for  tracking  certain  physical
events for the Home Health Monitor is not apparent, but
the mere fact of their being tracked may arouse curiosity
among participants.
(3) Introduce disturbing side effects to question responsibility.
Reflection about the balance of desire and ethics  can  be
provoked by designs that seem immediately appealing but
which have disquieting (焦慮不安) implications.  The Pillow works
this way in  providing  an  aesthetic  experience  that  only 
slowly  reveals  itself  as  depending  on  eavesdropping (偷聽):  it
seduces  people  into  a  voyeuristic  role  that  may  be

Ambiguity is not a virtue in itself, nor should it be used as
an excuse for poor design.  Many ambiguous systems are
merely  confusing,  frustrating,  or  meaningless.
Nonetheless, as we hope to have shown in this paper, it can
be an important factor in crafting interactive designs that
are engaging and thought-provoking.  Moreover, it has the
added  advantage  (which  we  have  purposely  avoided
stressing in this paper) of enabling designers to go beyond
the limits of their technologies. From this point of view,
ambiguity provides a frame of reference that allows the use
of inaccurate sensors, inexact mappings, and low-resolution
displays because it encourages users to supplement them
with their own interpretations and beliefs.


of information impels people to question for  themselves
the truth of a situation.

Contextual ambiguity can question
the discourses surrounding technological genres, allowing
people to expand, bridge, or reject them as they see fit.

Relational ambiguity, finally, can lead people to consider
new beliefs and values, and ultimately their own attitudes.