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

Eckert, Claudia; Stacey, Martin and Earl, Christopher (2003). Ambiguity is a double-edged sword: similarity references in communication. In: Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Engineering Design.


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.

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