This paper argues that the widespread belief that ambiguity is beneficial in design communication stems from conceptual confusion. Communicating imprecise, uncertain and provisional ideas is a vital part of design teamwork, but what is uncertain and provisional needs to be expressed as clearly as possible. Understanding what uncertainty information designers can and should communicate, and how, is an urgent task for research. Viewing design communication as conveying permitted spaces for further designing is a useful rationalisation for understanding what designers need from their notations and computer tools, to achieve clear communication of uncertain ideas. The paper presents a typology of ways that designs can be uncertain. It discusses how sketches and other representations of designs can be both intrinsically ambiguous, and ambiguous or misleading by failing to convey information about uncertainty and provisionality, with reference to knitwear design, where communication using inadequate representations causes severe problems. It concludes that systematic use of meta-notations for conveying provisionality and uncertainty can reduce these problems.
Citation:Stacey, M.K. and Eckert, C.M. (2003) Against ambiguity. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 12 (2), pp. 153-183.