Ambiguity as a Resource for Design
This article presents a somewhat concise perspective on how ambiguity is conceptualized and implemented within technology. The key thought that I have come away from this reading is how applicable ambiguous design is to instances of artistic works, yet is in my opinion nearly unusable in practical endeavors. However, the physical implementations of ambiguity explored in the article are not the kind that I expect to want to experiment with for myself. The examples of Projected Realities and Desert Rain were both particularly interesting to me, likely because of the story elements within them. Meanwhile The Pillow and Home Health Monitor came across as a novelty invasion of privacy and a forced system of meaningless analogs, respectively. I also found the example of Sarah Pennington’s phone design to be quite ridiculous, essentially being a pager rather than a unique exploratory piece.
As the authors explore throughout their paper, ambiguity is particularly useful in causing reflection and abstract thought. This is something that I find has particular merit in games and greatly appreciate when I encounter it. Design through metaphor and allegory are approaches which often catch my attention and I very much agree with their claim that:
By impelling people to interpret situations for themselves, it encourages
them to start grappling conceptually with systems and their
contexts, and thus to establish deeper and more personal
relations with the meanings offered by those systems.Gaver et al.
It is not often though that designers and engineers of systems for purposes of industry, research, consumer use, etc. create interfaces that are not easily interpreted. Though we may in some instances want to represent information such as temperature with a gradient of red to blue minus any numerical indicator.
Overall, Gaver et al.’s article has reinforced my opinion on the application of ambiguity. They give a useful overview of how to use this concept, yet fail to extend it beyond the domain of art. As far as I was able to discern, little evidence is given for their argument that “in the many emerging applications for everyday life…ambiguity is a resource that designers should neither ignore nor repress.”
Compared to the first article, I found the content discussed within Sengers et al.’s Reflective Design to be much more relevant both in regards to practicality and range of application. The initial discussion on HCI and biases and their effects within the practice was quite interesting and I think served as an excellent example giving context to the problem that they perceive. I wonder, however, to what extent did the authors reflect upon their own assumptions when forming their arguments and consolidating motivations. For in their section defining reflective design, they seem to have fully embraced ideologies of Marxism, feminism, racial and ethnic studies, the Enlightenment, etc. while assuming that there is nothing to be applied to reflective design from what might otherwise be “conflicting” viewpoints. Understandably though, an argument for any perspective must have some kind of definite foundation to be drawn from and cannot incorporate ideas from every worldview, nor do I think that they should.
One of the most important points I think that the authors present is found in their principles of reflective design, that “Technologies are not inherently values-blind”. As they themselves expand upon, everyone has concepts that underlie how we conduct every aspect of our lives, and design of and interaction with technology is no different. Critically, they also note how technology should not be the complete director of its user’s actions – especially when the user is under observation. Rather, it should offer avenues of interaction that respect agency and lend themselves to unintended, hopefully positive, consequences. With this I wholly agree.
At its core, I find the authors’ argument is for the promotion of evaluation of worldviews, albeit an evaluation focused within the context of technological design, and this is something that I am wholly supportive of. Indeed, this is something I attempt to do at every opportunity within my own work. In keeping with the theme of reflection, I will admit my preference for this article was likely influenced by the preexisting importance I place on reflective practices. If we do not reflect upon the things that we do, say, and create we are doomed to drift into self-defeating patterns of action.