Ambiguity 101

What do we know (and not know) about ambiguity?

Kelly Schmutte
Tried and Tested
No items found.
Purpose for Students
Why Ambiguity?
Date Added: 
May 2019

Relationship to Ambiguity

I've evolved this deck over the past year with the goal of communicating our point of view about WHAT the role of ambiguity is in a design context, WHY it matters, and HOW we begin to approach teaching for it.  

It includes a working definition of navigating ambiguity as a design ability, along with a graphic art poster for it. It also includes a rich variety of visuals, frameworks, and metaphors to explain different dimensions of ambiguity.

It is not intended to be a comprehensive examination of navigating ambiguity, but rather the points, stories, and words we've found most useful in communicating our point of view about ambiguity to a variety of audiences.




I've used different slides for different occasions. We've used many of them in the first week of a design class to introduce ambiguity as a core design ability, pairing them with the Ambiguity Metaphor Exploration Worksheet you can find elsewhere in the library.  

We've drawn on the ocean metaphor when using the Ambiguity Journey Maps activity.

And we've used the ambiguity archetypes visuals (Endure, Engage, Embrace) later on in a class as students are revisiting and reflecting on their relationship with ambiguity once they've really experienced it in projects.




The design abilities graphic art posters by Jason Munn are rich with visual meaning, and make for great discussion and interpretation prompts!  Navigating ambiguity is a great one to start with -- asking people what they see in this image.

While it's important and valuable to introduce ambiguity up front in a design class (sort of like naming the elephant in the room!), its meaning won't really sink in until students are actually experiencing ambiguity via a design project.  That's why I think it's best to show a few up front to open up the discussion, but continue to circle back on ambiguity while design work is in progress.

Design Abilities Used

A lot of time, iteration, and craft has gone into making these visuals communicate elegantly what words cannot.


The words, ideas, and visuals in this deck have evolved with much input from the teaching community, and in particular, the Teaching and Learning team.

Designed by:

Kelly Schmutte
Kelly Schmutte
Curriculum Designer and Lecturer, Stanford + Founder, PerfectFit Pointe

Design Abilities Used

Communicate Deliberately
Build + Craft Intentionally
Learn More about Design Abilities 


This resource is the original work of the Designer(s). I/we give permission for it to be licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

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