1. The quality of being open to more than one interpretation; inexactness.

Ambiguity is an important part of each design-related process at Design Academy Eindhoven. Ambiguity enables the designer or researcher to always question what he is working on. Questioning leads to analysis, reflection and research, to the rethinking of issues and, ultimately, it enables the discovery of different ways of exploring things as well as the unearthing of new possibilities or solutions. Being open and ambiguous makes a designer thrive.

Ambiguity is an important aspect of both the creative and the interpretative processes. During the process of creation, ambiguous ideas are often a source of inspiration, whilst during the process of interpretation, ambiguity can help the users of a particular design – for example an object or a system – to develop an active attitude towards it, or a close personal engagement with it. “The purpose may be merely to make the system seem mysterious and thus attractive but, more importantly, it can also compel people to join in the work of making sense of a system and its context,” write William Gaver et al, distinguishing three broad categories of ambiguity contingent on where uncertainty is located in the interpretative relationship that links person to 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 is to be found in the interpretative and evaluative stance of the individual.

Tobie Kerridge notes another kind of ambiguity related to the role of design, specifically in the context of design research – the so-called ‘wow factor’ which design can add to research or to the ‘packaging’ of the research in order to generate publicity, thus helping to publicly promote research findings.

DAE examples

  • Jan Pieter Kaptein, Second Self Laboratory, Graduation project Man and Leisure, 2013

  • Lina-Marie Koppen, Learn To Unlearn, Graduation project Master Social Design, 2012

  • Shiro Inoue, Intensified Perception, Graduation project IM Master, 2009


  • Gaver, W. W., Beaver, J. & Benford, S. (2003). Ambiquity as a resource for design, Chi Letters, 5 (1), 233–237.

  • Kerridge, T. (2013). Collaboration and Speculation. In Kindred Spirits, Strategic Creativity series, Eindhoven: Design Academy Eindhoven