Harnessing the element of surprise

Harnessing the element of surprise

What's a key tenet of successful design? Originality? Creativity?

According to Dr Edgar Rodriguez Ramirez, the ability to surprise is one often overlooked element.

The Victoria University PhD graduate has explored the concept of surprise to pinpoint common design strategies that work.

“Surprise gives a sense of novelty that we as humans are hard-wired to find interesting and often attractive,” he says.


A lamp without a visible lightbulb features a hidden bulb that glows when switched on

He has designed a set of 25 pocket-sized cards for practicing designers and design students, which he is currently working on commercialising through an educational publishing house.

Each card includes tips on generating surprise, such as aspects to consider when designing and how designers can know when they’re on the right track.

Rodriguez Ramirez says he has already trialled the cards with his students with considerable success in triggering ideas.

He developed his theories by interviewing 35 industrial designers from around the world, as well as analysing the effectiveness of some of his own design projects. He also conducted participatory design research with Samsung Electronics in Seoul, South Korea and widely renowned design studio Santachiara in Milan, Italy, among others.

“In my work, I look at how people use the objects I am designing and try to surprise them by breaking their expectations,” he says.

“This approach does have some exceptions, however. For instance, when I explored designing mousetraps and tested people’s reactions to them I found that surprise was good for people who were comfortable with mousetraps to start with, but actually made it worse for those who had been uncomfortable at the outset.”


A surprise second screen emerges at the front of this camera, which can display a countdown for self-timed photos or a visual sequence to attract a baby's eye

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