Ambiguity is a double-edged sword: Similarity references in communication

Claudia Eckert, Martin Stacey, Christopher Earl

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Designers often explain new concepts and new ideas by reference to existing designs. This is parsimonious, as it only requires a pointer to the referent and a description of the modifications. Such descriptions can be extremely powerful, expressing the entire context of a design or a process in a few words. However similarity assertions are inherently ambiguous, because they depend not only on the chosen description but also on the intention behind the similarity comparison. In this paper we attempt to analyse the effect that the ambiguity of similarity references has on communication and idea generation in design. The reinterpretation of a similarity assertion can be extremely creative, where ambiguity allows for new interpretations of a problem. At the same time, it can make accurate communication extremely difficult because every assertion can be interpreted differently unless the context is fully shared.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of ICED 03, the 14th International Conference on Engineering Design
EditorsAnders Folkeson, Margareta Norell, Ulf Sellgren, Klas Gralen
PublisherDesign Society
ISBN (Electronic)1904670008
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes
Event14th International Conference on Engineering Design, ICED 2003 - Stockholm, Sweden
Duration: 19 Aug 200321 Aug 2003

Publication series

NameProceedings of the International Conference on Engineering Design, ICED
VolumeDS 31
ISSN (Print)2220-4334
ISSN (Electronic)2220-4342


Conference14th International Conference on Engineering Design, ICED 2003


  • Ambiguity
  • Communication
  • Cooperative design
  • Creativity
  • Similarity


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