However, there are limitations to this integrative approach as well. Several
authors have argued that models of decision making under uncertainty often do
not adequately reﬂect real-world decision making (e.g. March, 1978; Daft
and Lengel, 1986). They propose that often possible future outcomes are not
identiﬁed or not well deﬁned and that there may be conﬂict
with regard to what these will or should be. These authors state that decision-making
and problem solving are often carried out under conditions of ambiguity, rather
than uncertainty. Ambiguity is deﬁned as lack of clarity regarding the
relevant design variables and their functional relationships. Ambiguity relates
directly to Daft and Lengel’s notion (1986) of equivocality, which they
deﬁne as ‘… ambiguity, the existence of multiple and conﬂicting
interpretations about a situation.’ As a consequence, coping with ambiguity
is one of the foremost issues in new product design as the ﬁnal design
is inherently a synthesis of multiple perspectives and views on what the ultimate
product should offer to its user.
Allen already alluded to this in his 1977 book, when he explained why direct
face-to-face contact is the most effective information channel in innovation
settings. It is, he argued, because face-to-face contact does not only help
to reduce uncertainty via the sharing of information, but more important still,
face-to-face contact makes it easier to unveil and discuss divergences in interpretation
on the information being shared. In other words, in an innovation context, we
do not only have to consider situations of asymmetric information, but also,
situations of asymmetric interpretation of that information. In order to reduce
asymmetries in interpretation, the richness of the information and information
channels available is of crucial importance.
Face-to-face information exchange is characterized by a high level of media richness.
As I will argue later on, three-dimensional parametric representations and models
of product designs also carry higher levels of information richness than their
traditional two-dimensional representations on calculation sheets and paper
drawings. And, this is precisely where the novel design technologies come in.
Today, an increasing array of technologies is available that allows for the
quick experiential design and development of three-dimensional representations
of product forms. This implies that in ﬁtting ‘form’ to ‘context
of use’ via the development of the product design hierarchy, we now dispose
of techniques that allow us to quickly deﬁne three-dimensional forms
of the product (either on computer screen as happens with three-dimensional
CAD systems such as CATIA, ProEngineer and Unigraphics or in ‘hard’
copy as with three-dimensional Rapid Prototyping techniques as stereolithography,
selective laser sintering and 3D inkjet printing).
These experiential product designs can then be confronted with the various stakeholders
belonging to its context of use, amongst whom users ﬁgure predominantly.
In doing so, it is possible to organize a new product design in a most experiential
mode, consisting of cycles of iteration based on multiple ‘real’
representations of the product design. It therefore is important to introduce
and to emphasize the role of experimentation during the new product development
process. Many writings on managing this process have almost exclusively focused
on the role of information and information exchange (see for instance the management
of part-whole relationships as described by Van de Ven, 1986). However, as observed
by Allen (1977), information exchange is (notwithstanding its importance), only
a smaller part of the total activity of product designers and engineers. In
Table 1, I summarise the activity patterns of designers and designers in innovation
projects as Allen observed them.