The Understanding of Ambiguity as a Design Resource: Suggesting concrete design tactics for creating ambiguous design and testing its effects on users’ reflection, user engagement and system usability.
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Researchers have only recently started seeing ambiguity as something positive in the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI). When used in the right way, ambiguous design can create more engagement or provoke thoughts in the user. Currently there is a gap in research between the understanding of ambiguity in theory and its applied practice. In this research we undertake this gap with a systematic review on current research in ambiguous design. Via this review we answered the question: how is the concept of ambiguity understood and used as a design resource in the field of HCI? Papers for the analysis were retrieved from ACM and selected using PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses). The final corpus of our review consists of fifty-five papers. We analyzed these papers with open coding using the software Atlas.ti. Of our corpus, in nine papers ambiguity was discussed and in forty-five papers ambiguity was applied in practice. The review shows that ambiguity can be used in design, as well as in methods for creating design. Additionally, we show different goals and effects on users that can be achieved with ambiguous design, such as curiosity, social engagement, play, immersion, awareness, understanding, reflection, and creativity. We also found that balance is an important subject in creating ambiguous design, as too ambiguous design can create confusion in users, while design that is not ambiguous enough might not evoke the preferred effects. Yet, creating this balance is not an easy task, as it is difficult to know in advance how ambiguity will be perceived. Additionally, we discuss the different types of ambiguity and design tactics that are suggest in the papers. The suggested design tactics appeared to be abstract, and were not mentioned in the majority of the papers in our corpus. To make design tactics easier to use in practice, we created more concrete design tactics based on ambiguous designs that were presented in our corpus. In total, we present ten concrete design along with examples of ambiguous designs that apply these tactics: absence of purpose, absence of obvious connection, absence of information, absence of object, connection of external situations, abstract representation, data physicalization, ambiguous data, and uncomfortable design. To test the findings in our literature review, we created a prototype that included different concrete design tactics. These were tested in four ways, with four conditions: Condition A did not include the design tactics, condition B included the absence of information, condition C included the absence of (original) context, and condition D included a combination of absence of obvious connection and abstract presentation. In all conditions, participants filled in a questionnaire that included questions regarding the user's reflection, user engagement, system usability and perceived creepiness of the design. Additionally, participants were invited to an interview to get insights on additional thought processes. In total 82 participants were recruited. Although no significance was found, the results indicate a more diverse opinion about the system's usability and the perceived creepiness of the device in ambiguous conditions, and interestingly an indication of lower user engagement in the ambiguous conditions. The qualitative results also resembled a variety of opinions, as participants either found the device confusing, experienced a learning curve, or thought it was easy to use. Interestingly, the majority of the participants were positive about the interaction with the device, even when they found it confusing. In future research this instance can be further studied. Other suggestions for future research are to study the right balance of ambiguityand and and create a standardized way to analyze the ambiguity of a design.
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