4th Comedic Model for Design Ideation: Surprise Disambiguation.

The fourth and final model in my collection of articles here on LinkedIn is Surprise Disambiguation (see diagram). Although the title is a little disconcerting the methodology is quite common in the conceptualization of advertising design. I have heard it called “paying off an idea”, “turning a phrase”, or “pulling double-duty”.

Based on the work of Graeme Ritchie in his article Developing the Incongruity-Resolution Theory. Ritchie proposes the Surprise Disambiguation Theory in which the set-up to a joke consists of two different interpretations, but one is much more obvious to the audience, who does not become aware of the other obscure meaning. The meaning of the punch line conflicts with this obvious interpretation, but is compatible with, and even evokes, the other, hitherto hidden, meaning.

In my opinion, the Surprise Disambiguation model is instrumental in the designer’s ability to make the audience feel a sense of belonging to a larger consciousness for figuring out the hidden meaning. The instant fusing of the audience’s collective consciousness may very well build a consensus towards the desired reaction or opinion.

Here is another look at the methodology:

Set Up + Two Different Interpretations (Obvious & Obscure) + Punchline gives meaning to obscure = Humor

Example: Man exclaims, “I ran into some old friends down at the beach yesterday…one of them cracked my windshield on the way over my hood.”

Here are examples of Surprise Disambiguation. At first glance there is an obvious idea of the image but upon further review another idea is recognized. The mind’s need to resolve the incongruity then begs the question of “Why?”.

In most cases the logo or call-to-action will flash the resolution to the incongruity because we understand the messenger’s motive and can appreciate the delivery. The viewer can then assess the idea in totality.

Surprise Disambiguation is a great tool for designers to promote ideas while inviting viewer participation. In my opinion, if you can take the viewer with you then will be well on your way to building your tribe because they may feel part of the “in” group because they connected at another level with your idea and methodology.

I hope you enjoyed the quick articles of four Comedic Models for Advertising Design ideation. These models were the basis of my thesis for my Master Fine Arts degree. I use them in my teaching at CBU in Southern California where I direct the Design + Visual Experience program. I want my design students to have ways to fire their own creative engines in event of more obscure design problems in order for them to succeed in long rigorous design careers.

Thanks for reading.

Michael Berger, MFA is program director for the award-winning Graphic Design + Visual Experience program at CBU, design director at Harvest with Greg Laurie, and owner of mbdx creative.

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