A Discussion of Masterworks: What Makes Good Information Architecture Good?

4th Academics and Practitioners Roundtable
2016 Information Architecture Summit inAtlanta, Georgia, USA
May 5, 2016


Following the successes of the previous Academic and Practitioners roundtables at the Information Architecture Summits in 2013 (Reframing IA), 2014 (Teaching IA), and 2015 (A Language of Critique), this community event discussed what defines a masterwork of information architecture, tackling the relevance and value of a work's resilience, originality, cultural relevance, and influence. 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: we need a canon for IA research and practice. What makes good information architecture good?


Sarah Rice
Consultant, Adjunct Faculty, California College of the Arts

Keith Instone

Bernadette Irizarry
Velvet Hammer Design

Andrea Resmini
Jönköping University

Stacy Surla
ICF International



The primary goal of the roundtable is to present, discuss, and analyze masterworks of information architecture and answer, among others, questions such as:

  1. What defines a masterwork of information architecture?
  2. What are example of masterworks of information architecture?
  3. How do we determine if an architecture is “good”? What are the frameworks? What are the indicators?
  4. What is a masterwork in the age of postdigital artifacts and multiple, anonymous co-creation?
  5. What is the role of the architect?
  6. How are individuals or studios and collectives recognized for their contributions to a communal work?
  7. Can a masterwork be the deliberate creations of corporations? Can it arise from like-minded creative thinkers drawing inspiration from one another?
  8. Can it be the product of mass co-creation?
  9. What are the benefits of establishing a canon for IA practice?
  10. Can a solid body of knowledge and an established canon broaden discourse and become platforms for well-rounded education and research?
  11. Do we risk division in the field? Are ambassadors necessary to drive broader acceptance of information architecture?


Flávia Lacerda
Structuring the Conversation - The M3 Model and Information Architecture

Dan Klyn
Learning from James Joyce’s Ulysses and Richard Saul Wurman’s The City, Form and Intent

Michael Adcock
The Information Architecture of the Mundane

Stacy Surla
A Language of Critique for Information Architecture

How can we tell good Information Architecture from bad? What can we use to evaluate our work and persuade coworkers and clients that it's good - or to pivot if it's bad? More than this, what tools will help us understand how well we're practicing and teaching IA overall, and help us develop IA as a discipline? Information architecture needs a framework for addressing how we think about and improve our field at multiple levels. We need a language of critique. This talk introduces audience members a movement currently underway to develop a robust framework for IA critique.

Christina Wodtke
CAMP - A Model for Critique of Masterworks

Critique is necessary for any field to mature. But which come first? A master work that announces through its brilliance that we have arrived, or a language of critique that help us see how far we have come. I believe they emerge together, each near-masterwork inspiring a language that expresses not yet. As great works of information spaces begins to arrive on our devices, those that fail, decay or otherwise break our hearts have lead me to form a simple frame work that helps me understand why a digital creation does or does not work. I currently call it CAMP. I hope to share it at the roundtable, with works that demonstrate the key ideas.

David Bloxsom
Taxonomies of Othering: Creating Systems of Oppression

Once the exclusive property of librarians and scientists, taxonomies have turned into a crucial tool for organising and finding content. But the decisions we make and the labels we use have significant repercussions, especially when we're sorting people. It is important that we understand how taxonomies go bad and how they have been used to otherise and disempower people. We need to go beyond just having empathy for the user and create systems that support people in all aspects of their lives.

Marsha Haverty
Machines for Making the Future

Masterworks of information architecture are not unlike elegant experimental systems in the sciences. These systems are characterized by an arbitrary, yet carefully-crafted delineation of the sphere of the performance: constraints on the degrees of freedom of action, the nature of the questions (actions) that may be asked (performed), and the types of answers (responses) that the sphere of the system sustains. Rather than a system well-defined upfront by the designer, there exist epistemic objects within the system that are partially defined, that allow for unprecedented events. Masterworks allow for multiple unexpected "readings" of the system, of the significance of its traces, allowing us to revise or even abandon initial guiding concepts (theories). In this way, masterworks of IA are generative. They are machines for making the future.



This is a full day pre-conference event. Speaker contributions will be used to structure a roundtable conversation among all participants which will be facilitated by the organizers. It will be structured in loosely timed sections, providing space for an introduction to the themes, rounds of moderated conversations among participants and group sessions with hands-on activities, during which the facilitators will invite group elaboration, critique, or comments on specific, noteworthy points. A final wrap-up session will conclude the roundtable, recap preliminary conclusions, and set the agenda for further research and dissemination.

Ideally, the roundtable will engage participants through group exercises and activities to further expand the conversation. Non-speaking attendance, appealing to researchers or practitioners who might have an interest in the discussion but no formalized contribution to bring forward at this point, is as always very welcome.


Submissions are closed.
Publication of the results of the roundtable in volume or special issue format is currently being investigated. Authors of accepted contributions will be contacted either before or after the roundtable and provided additional information.
Important dates:

  1. Mar 31 - Submissions due
  2. Apr 7 - Accepted authors notified
  3. Apr 30 - Draft presentations and updated abstracts prepared by accepted authors
  4. May 5 - Roundtable happens