Ambiguity and Design

Image by Carl Hastrich: Another diagram communicating conceptual process.

I’ve moved into a position where I can do strategic design research, which I need to explain online as things settle down in the new year. Ever since starting this blog I have been exploring the key questions around innovation and the various processes, recently some big ah-ha moments are occurring that are weaving these thoughts together.

What really is design anyway

Sometimes I can be a bad ambassador for design. I can’t relate to people who don’t see the critical need for design thinking tools. When I meet someone who assumes that designers only wrap pretty skins around functional objects my eyes glaze over.

The reality is that contemporary design process is much more about making sense from ambiguity. It is a rigorous, systematic methodology for gathering insights and reading between the lines of what people say they want, and what they really need. There are of course rigorous methodologies for developing and implementing solutions to problems, but the real value lies in identifying what the problems are in the first place.

Clarity in Confusion

Reading a recent article in Fast Company I fell in love with the definition of complexity and ambiguity by Dev Patnaik, CEO of strategy firm Jump;

“Uncertainty is when you’ve defined the variable but don’t know its value. Like when you roll a die and you don’t know if it will be a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. But ambiguity is when you’re not even sure what the variables are. You don’t know how many dice are even being rolled or how many sides they have or which dice actually count for anything.”

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