"We're Going On An Abilities Hunt" Cards

Ambiguity: We can't go over it. We can't go under it. Oh no! We've got to go through it!

Tessa Forshaw
Active Experiments
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Purpose for Students
Explore Examples
Make it Personal
Experience It
Date Added: 
May 2019

Relationship to Ambiguity

These 8 cards (designed to be printed double sided, with an instruction on the front and a hint on the back) are designed to get students exploring 8 design abilities, with an especially deep dive into navigating ambiguity, as they explore an open-ended design question. These cards were developed by Tessa Forshaw, Colin Coltrera, and Rich Braden for our Design Thinking Studio class at the Stanford d.school.  

Give teams of 2-4 students an envelope with all 8 cards in it. Provide all of the students with the How Might We question ("How might we reduce plastic use on campus?"), give them a time limit (at least 45 minutes), and tell them to use as many cards as they want (as many times as they want). When students get back ask them what they learned, what cards they used and why, and if they were going to do it again how would they change their approach.

This resource is a good one for the Library of Ambiguity because it lets students explore what it feels like to dive into ambiguity and make choices for how to move their thinking forward. It also places the 8 design abilities as ways to change your relationship to the ambiguity you are experiencing.




In spring, Design Thinking Studio, we developed a Design Abilities Scavenger hunt as "Design Project 0." Our intent was to give students a taste of the different design abilities, how they can show up in various concrete actions, and a baseline for how they react to ambiguity.

Student teams explored the question "How might we reduce plastic waste on campus?" through use of 1 - 8 of the cards, and did everything from online database research to interviewing to brainstorming to prototype testing. No two groups did the same thing, or worked in the same order. But every team learned more about the problem space and themselves.




By experiencing ambiguity as a class, learners created a shared mental model for ambiguity that they could spend the rest of the quarter dissecting, examining, and reflecting on.

By each completing the cards in different orders (but still, all getting to an outcome), learners experienced for themselves that design isn’t a linear process. It’s the practice of understanding what you know, what you don’t, and designing intentional next steps to bridge the gaps.

We, the teaching team, learned how each of our students reacted to ambiguity. We then used this for the creation of design teams, and to flag which students might need more or less prompting to get out of their comfort zones.

Design Abilities Used

Each of the 8 cards relates directly to one of the 8 design abilities. The core of the activity is to explore these abilities before naming them, then discussing with students what the abilities are and how each of them changed the relationship the students had with the problem space (and the ambiguity they were experiencing) as their experience progressed.


Designed by:

Colin Coltrera
Colin Coltrera
Lecturer, Stanford d.school; Senior Designer, People Rocket
Tessa Forshaw
Tessa Forshaw
Lecturer, Stanford d.school
Rich Cox Braden
Rich Cox Braden
Lecturer, Stanford d.school; CEO, People Rocket

Design Abilities Used

Learn from Others (People and Contexts)
Experiment Rapidly
Synthesize Information
Build + Craft Intentionally
Move Between Concrete + Abstract
Communicate Deliberately
Design Your Design Work
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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