Halfway to the Future 2019

HttF 2019

The theme setting paper for the Arts & Design-led Approaches panel.

Ambiguity as a Resource for Design

A keynote by Bill Gaver (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Ambiguity is usually considered anathema in Human Computer Interaction. We argue, in contrast, that it is a resource for design that can be used to encourage close personal engagement with systems. We illustrate this with examples from contemporary arts and design practice, and distinguish three broad classes of ambiguity according to where uncertainty is located in the interpretative relationship linking person and artefact. 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. For each of these categories, we describe tactics for emphasising ambiguity that may help designers and other practitioners understand and craft its use.


William W. Gaver, Jacob Beaver, and Steve Benford. 2003. Ambiguity as a resource for design. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '03). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 233-240. https://doi.org/10.1145/642611.642653