Journal of Information Technology

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 1–19

Design theory for dynamic complexity in information infrastructures: the case of building internet

Research Article

DOI: 10.1057/jit.2009.19

Cite this article as:
Hanseth, O. & Lyytinen, K. J Inf Technol (2010) 25: 1. doi:10.1057/jit.2009.19


We propose a design theory that tackles dynamic complexity in the design for Information Infrastructures (IIs) defined as a shared, open, heterogeneous and evolving socio-technical system of Information Technology (IT) capabilities. Examples of IIs include the Internet, or industry-wide Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) networks. IIs are recursively composed of other infrastructures, platforms, applications and IT capabilities and controlled by emergent, distributed and episodic forms of control. II's evolutionary dynamics are nonlinear, path dependent and influenced by network effects and unbounded user and designer learning. The proposed theory tackles tensions between two design problems related to the II design: (1) the bootstrap problem: IIs need to meet directly early users’ needs in order to be initiated; and (2) the adaptability problem: local designs need to recognize II's unbounded scale and functional uncertainty. We draw upon Complex Adaptive Systems theory to derive II design rules that address the bootstrap problem by generating early growth through simplicity and usefulness, and the adaptability problem by promoting modular and generative designs. We illustrate these principles by analyzing the history of Internet exegesis.


design theoryComplex Adaptive Systemsinformation infrastructureInternethistorical case study

Copyright information

© Association for Information Technology Trust 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Informatics, University of OsloNorway
  2. 2.Department of Information Systems, Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve UniversityClevelandUSA