Mapping the Domain: Navigating to a Discipline

5th Academics and Practitioners Roundtable
2017 Information Architecture Summit in Vancouver, BC, Canada
March 22, 2017


Over the past several years, the information architecture (IA) community has been considering how to progress beyond being just a practice (what's done in the field) and also become a discipline (a field of study taught in university and researched to establish a body of knowledge).

This roundtable drew together highlights, discoveries, and open questions from the work spanning the 4 previous years and produced a Domain Map of information architecture as a discipline, encompassing what IAs do in the field along with what is taught and researched in academia.

Roundtable participants gained a stronger understanding of IA as a discipline and practice, a useful visualization of tools, theories, and models essential to the field, and the experience of being a contributing voice in the conversation on where IA is headed.

Domain map


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 group mapped different and complementary roles and artifacts that practice and academia have brought to the "discipline-ification" of information architecture. This was done by reviewing past Academics and Practitioners roundtables, engaging in lightning talks from roundtable participants, and collaborating in structured exercises. We diagramed a crosswalk between the landscape of applied work and the theories and models that are the realm of academics and scientists.


The culmination of the day's work was a Domain Map, providing a practical, comprehensible chart of a complex territory. This strawman Domain Map captured the participants' perspectives on applied IA work along with academic theories and models, showing connections and gaps, and sparking deeper conversations within and outside of the roundtable setting. Ultimately, opportunities were revealed to bring information architecture forward as it matures into a discipline.


9:00am: Introductions. Icebreaker. De-stress.
9:30am: Setting the Stage. Reframe work done to date. Concept of Mapping the Domain.
10:00am: Lightning talks. Exercise break. Discussion.
11:00am: Activity 1, Towards Domain Mapping.
12:00pm: Lunch.
1:00pm: Activity 1 report. Discussion.
2:00pm: Lightning talks. Exercise break. Discussion.
3:00pm: Activity 2, Finalizing the Domain Map.
4:00pm: Activity 2 report. Discussion.
4:30pm: Wrap up and next steps. Defining what we did. Translate into practice and theory.
5:00pm: Adjourn to the bar to continue the discussion (optional).


Lightning Talks


Simon Norris

Designing Against Humans: Lessons from Masterworks

Jeffery Ryan Pass

Lessons from UXPA

What is our responsibility to the information environment?

Bram Wessel

Is IA Undefinable?

Stuart Maxwell

Information Planners?

Chris Chandler

Roundtable Retrospective: 2013 to today

Sarah A Rice

Agile Heuristics - Presentation

Agile Heuristics

Laura Federoff



The best way to participate in the roundtable is to contribute a 5-minute lightning talk on your views concerning the domain mapping theme. This will help you prepare for the roundtable ahead of time, get some skin in the game, and provide the group with content for discussion and activities during the roundtable.

You can also attend the roundtable without giving a lightning talk. You will be expected to participate in the activities of the day and contribute to the conversations.


  1. What I learned from a past Academics and Practitioner Roundtable (we would like to have a talk for each of the 4 previous years)
  2. Recapping the M3 Model.
  3. What is a discipline? What is practice? How do practices become disciplines?
  4. Is information architecture a craft or a science or a philosophy or a religion? What is the distinction?
  5. Your brilliant idea related to mapping the information architecture domain.

Lightning talks are not limited to this list: be creative!


  1. Prepare an abstract of what you will talk about (200 words or less). Include the top 2-5 points you want to convey. Email it to by February 24 (extended from February 15).
  2. We will quickly review the submissions and give you feedback. We normally accept all submissions, but if we get too many we might have to package some talks in the form of written summaries. All the talks will provide reference materials for attendees to carry out the activities of the day.
  3. Register for the roundtable. The cost is only $200, to cover food and facility expenses.
  4. Prepare your talk, in "Lightning format" (5 minutes total, 20 seconds per slide). Share it with us 1 week before the roundtable so we can integrate the material into the schedule, and tweak the planned activities if needed.
  5. Show up at the roundtable on March 22nd and give your talk. Participate in the roundtable!
  6. Often, participants like to do some sort of follow-up activity to get even more out of the roundtable. For practitioners, this could be as little as posting their lightning talk, but sometimes it includes writing an article or presenting at a conference to share what they learned with other practitioners. Academics like writing papers, so sometimes the follow-up for them is writing a chapter for a book. No one is required to do anything after the roundtable, but often the energy from the day pushes people to do more afterwards.

If you are only attending, not presenting a lightning talk, you still need to register and pay $200.

Most roundtable attendees also attend the IA Summit, but you are not required to register for the Summit.


  1. February 15: Submit abstract for lightning talk
  2. February 22: Get feedback, confirm attendance & register for the roundtable
  3. March 15: Share a draft of lightning talk
  4. March 22: Attend the roundtable
  5. TBD: Do some sort of follow-up activity