Embrace Ambiguity

Patrice Martin

Creative Director and Co-Lead, IDEO.org

“We may not know what that answer is, but we know that we have to give ourselves permission to explore.”

Human-centered designers always start from the place of not knowing the answer to the problem they’re looking to solve. And though that’s not particularly comfortable, it allows us to open up creatively, to pursue lots of different ideas, and to arrive at unexpected solutions. By embracing that ambiguity, and by trusting that the human-centered design process will guide us toward an innovative answer, we actually give ourselves permission to be fantastically creative.

It’s not easy not knowing the answer; and even less so not even knowing the right questions to ask. But if we knew the answer when we started, what could we possibly learn? How could we come up with creative solutions? Where would the people we’re designing for guide us? Embrace ambiguity actually frees us to pursue an answer that we can’t initially imagine, which puts us squarely on the path to routine innovation and lasting impact.

Patrice Martin

Patrice Martin is the Co-Lead and Creative Director at IDEO.org and a former Design Director at IDEO. She sees design as a way of thinking that can be used to solve problems large and small, whatever the sector. She was named one of Foreign Policy Magazine’s Top Global Thinkers.