The Good,the Bad, and the Ugly: Developing a Language of Critique for Information Architecture

3rd Academics and Practitioners Roundtable
Information Architecture Summit 2015, Minneapolis, MN, USA
April 22, 2015, 9am — 5pm


Following the successes of the first two Academic and Practitioners roundtables at the Information Architecture Summits in 2013 (Reframing IA) and 2014 (Teaching IA), this community event is back and ready to discuss how we define what is good and what is bad in Information Architecture. The cross-channel information spaces we design today are nothing like those we designed in the 1990's, and we struggle to articulate a comprehensive language to describe and critique them. Is this one good? Is that one bad? Why?


Andrea Resmini
Assistant professor,Jönköping University, International Business School,

Keith Instone
User Experience Consultant,

Sarah Rice
Information Architecture Consultant & adjunct faculty, California College of the Arts,



Re-framed Information Architecture

When Information Architecture became a mainstream practice first and then a field of study in the mid 1990's, the core body of knowledge and expertise coming from Library and Information science seemed to be all that was necessary for the discipline to thrive. Probems of labeling, categorization, and ordering of large collections of loosely joined documents seemed to be the only possible concern.

Today, information has bled out of the screens and into the physical world. The illusion of the Web as a library and the Internet as a different and separated world has given way to a much more complex scenario in which digital and physical blend easily, and the Internet is a piece in a larger postdigital mechanism where our activities and our use, consumption and production of information happen across multiple contexts through multiple devices and unstable, user-driven, emergent choreographies.

Portable personal computing, ambient devices, city-wide systems have turned simpler artifacts, such as a website or a mobile app, into parts of larger architectures, product or service ecosystems, complex, cross-channel information-based structures that incessantly connect what is online and what is offline, the digital and the physical.

Information Architecture in the mid-2010's is steadily growing into a channel- or medium-aspecific multi-disciplinary framing: conversations about labeling, website user interfaces, and hierarchies have elevated to conversations about sense-making, place-making, service design, architecture, and embodied cognition. If Information Architecture is concerned with "structuring information spaces", then these information spaces are much more complex that those the discipline focused on in the 1990s. As can be expected, the contemporary discourse around Information Architecture struggles to articulate a language to describe and critique these pervasive, often social places we spend increasing parts of our lives in.


The primary goal of the roundtable is to lay the basis for a conversation on a language of critique for information architecture and answer, among others, questions such as:

  • Is such a language really necessary or can this proposition be challenged?
  • If necessary, is this language an entirely new language? Can it be derived from existing languages, such as those for new media or architeture?
  • How would such a language work?
  • Who should help in shaping it?
  • Can practice and research share a common language of critique or are their goals different if complementary?

The exact topics to be discussed at the roundtable will be determined by the presenters and participants, but they will center on a language of critique for information architecture.



In this full-day event, individual, peer-reviewed contributions were used to conduct a roundtable conversation among all participants. The discussion was structured in loosely timed sections, providing space for an introduction to the themes, rounds of moderated conversations among participants and two 30-minute sessions during which the facilitators invited group critique and comments on specific, noteworthy points from all accepted position papers. The roundtable concluded with a final wrap-up session to recap preliminary conclusions and set the agenda for further research and dissemination.

Notes and materials

Participants documented the discussion process and content throughout the day: