In a recent paper, we read Jonas Lowgren’s nineteen use qualities. I’m going to attempt to think through a particular use quality, ambiguity, while looking at the critique functionality found on Deviant Art.

Lowgren talks about how ambiguity in HCI is normally thought of as a bad thing, which gets in the way of efficiency. Lowgren then goes on to say:

Ambiguity makes easy interpretation impossible by creating situations in which people are forced to participate to make meaning of what they experience. The ambiguous design sets the scene for meaning-making but does not prescribe the interpretation. The task of making the ambiguous simulation comprehensible befalls the human actor, which may lead to inherent pleasure as well as deeper conceptual appropriation of the design.

deviant art critique

A screen shot of the Deviant Art Critique Feature

It is in this sense of ambiguity that Deviant Art’s critique feature works well. In DA’s critique feature, a criticizer is asked to rate a particular ‘deviation’, or artwork, based on Vision, Originality, Technique, and Impact. These ratings are on a 5 star scale. The criticizer is also forced to provide a minimum 100 word written critique to the author of the work. I think the interaction of these two elements, the ratings and the written critique, create an ambiguity that allows for each individual to create their own meaning of the critique feature itself.

In the ratings section, each label is in-and-of-itself very ambiguous. Labels like “Vision” and “Originality” mean different things to different people at different times. The meaning of these words also likely change based on the artifact being critiqued.

When paired with the ratings, the written critique (with it’s minimum 100 word count) provides some sense-making to the criticizer. It is within this text area and the written words that a criticizer can add meaning to the ambiguous rating system. By writing about different elements of the artifact meaning is given to the rating system labels.

In conclusion, I hope that I’ve shown how the ambiguous design of the Deviant Art critique feature brings about meaning-making for each individual criticizer. By combining ambiguous rating system labels with a written critique, criticizers are actually forced to make sense of the design in a multitude of ways, which likely change over time. I believe that this design brings about a more serious critique and a more lively conversation between users.

For an example critique, look at a recent photography critique that I wrote on Deviant Art.