Today’s information architecture (IA) practitioners work in a morally and politically challenging climate where pervasive, systemic problems demand that we consider the consequences of our work for social justice and sustainability. Using “Information Architecture in the Anthropocene” as a framing device, and drawing from critical perspectives in design scholarship, this chapter explores what these systemic problems mean for everyday information architecture practice, and it asks what methodological, theoretical, and paradigmatic qualities would enable information architecture to respond adequately to social and environmental challenges. Both design and information architecture practitioners are deeply involved in ongoing sociopolitical problems, which highlights the need for awareness of their limitations and their situatedness within the systems that are traditionally treated as objects for detached research and design. Reflexivity, informed by a systemic epistemology, is identified as a critical attribute for information architecture in the Anthropocene. Three proposals are offered as ways to achieve this: information architecture as a developmental process, information architecture as ethical practice, and information architecture as a network. These approaches apply processual and relational interpretations, along with biological theory, to the practice of information architecture, challenging our field to include ourselves in the systems we study and to rethink information architecture as a responsible practice.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout
Purchases are for personal use onlyLearn about institutional subscriptions
Allen, S., et al. (2019). Atmospheric transport and deposition of microplastics in a remote mountain catchment. Nature Geoscience, 12, 339–344.
American Public Health Association. (2018). Addressing Law Enforcement Violence as a Public Health Issue. American Public Health Association Policy Statement Database. https://www.apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/public-health-policy-statements/policy-database/2019/01/29/law-enforcement-violence.
Andrae, A. S. G., & Edler, T. (2015). On global electricity usage of communication technology: Trends to 2030. Challenges, 6(1), 117–157. https://doi.org/10.3390/challe6010117.
Arango, J. (2019). Living in information. Two Waves Books.
Borelle, S. B., et al. (2020). Predicted growth in plastic waste exceeds efforts to mitigate plastic pollution. Science, 369(6510), 1515–1518. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aba3656.
Bowles, C. (2018). Future ethics. NowNext Press. https://nownext.studio/future-ethics.
Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. HarperCollins.
Browne, M. A., et al. (2011). Accumulation of microplastic on shorelines worldwide: Sources and sinks. Environmental Science and Technology, 45(21), 9175–9179. https://doi.org/10.1021/es201811s.
Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design Issues, 8(2), 5–21.
Campbell, A. F. (2019, May 28). The recession hasn’t ended for gig economy workers. Vox. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/5/28/18638480/gig-economy-workers-wellbeing-survey.
Caporael, L. R., Griesemer, J. R., & Wimsatt, W. C. (2013). Developing scaffolds in evolution, culture, and cognition. MIT Press.
Castillo, V., Farai, S., & Villamil, A. (2020, September 27—November 1). HmntyCntrd [Course]. https://www.hmntycntrd.com/.
Cole, M., et al. (2016). Microplastics as contaminants in the marine environment: A review. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 62(12), 2588–2597. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2011.09.025.
Costanza-Chock, S. (2020). Design justice: Community-led practices to build the worlds we need. MIT Press.
Coyne, R. (2004). Wicked problems revisited. Design Studies, 26(2005), 5–17. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.destud.2004.06.005.
Creative Reaction Lab. (2018). Equity-centered community design field guide. https://www.creativereactionlab.com/our-approach.
Crocker, R. (2016). Somebody else’s problem: Consumerism, sustainability and design. Routledge.
Crutzen, P. J., & Stoermer, E. F. (2000). The ‘Anthropocene’. IGBP Newsletter, 41, 17–18.
Delanty, G., & Mota, A. (2017). Governing the Anthropocene: Agency, governance, knowledge. European Journal of Social Theory, 20(1), 9–38. https://doi.org/10.1177/1368431016668535.
Emirbayer, M. (1997). Manifesto for a Relational Sociology. American Journal of Sociology, 103(2), 281–317. https://doi.org/10.1086/231209.
Escobar, A. (2018). Designs for the pluriverse: Radical interdependence, autonomy, and the making of worlds. Duke University Press.
Eubanks, V. (2018). Automating inequality: How high-tech tools profile, police, and punish the poor. St. Martin’s Press.
Fenn, T., & Hobbs, J. (2014). The information architecture of meaning making. In A. Resmini (Ed.), Reframing information architecture. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-06492-5.
Fenn, T., & Hobbs, J. (2015). Wicked ethics in Design. Ethics and accountability in Design: Do they matter?—DEFSA Conference Proceedings.
Findeli, A. (1994). Ethics, aesthetics, and design. Design Issues, 10(2).
Frankel, T. C. (2016, September 30). The Cobalt Pipeline: Tracing the path from deadly hand-dug mines in Congo to consumers’ phones and laptops. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/business/batteries/congo-cobalt-mining-for-lithium-ion-battery/.
Friedman, B., & Hendry, D. G. (2019). Value sensitive design: Shaping technology with moral imagination. MIT Press.
Fry, T. (2011). Design as politics. Berg.
Geyer, R., Jamberk, J. R., & Law, K. L. (2017). Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, 3(7), e1700782. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.1700782.
Hill, D. (2012). Dark matter and trojan horses: A strategic design vocabulary. Strelka Press.
Hinton, A. (2014). Understanding context: Environment, language, and information architecture. O’Reilly.
Hobbs, J. (2019, September 24). Re: The Future of Information Architecture. JH-01. https://jh-01.com/?p=374.
Hobbs, J., & Fenn, T. (2019). The design of socially sustainable ontologies. Philosophy & Technology, 32, 745–767.
Hobbs, J., Fenn, T., & Resmini, A. (2010). Maturing a Practice. Journal of Information Architecture, 1(2). http://journalofia.org/volume2/issue1/04-hobbs/.
IA Roundtable. (2019, March 13). Diversity & inclusion: The 7th academics and practitioners roundtable. The First Information Architecture Conference 2019. http://iaroundtable.org.
Ingold, T. (2000). The perception of the environment: Essays on livelihood, dwelling, and skill. Routledge.
Irani, L., et al. (2010). Postcolonial computing: A lens on design and development. CHI ‘10: Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 1311–1320. https://doi.org/10.1145/1753326.1753522.
Jamieson, A. J., et al. (2019). Microplastics and synthetic particles ingested by deep-sea amphipods in six of the deepest marine ecosystems on Earth. Royal Society Open Science, 6(20), 180667. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.180667.
Jones, P. (2008). We tried to warn you: Innovations in leadership for the learning organization. Nimble Books.
Kimbell, L. (2011). Rethinking design thinking: Part I. Design and Culture, 3(3), 285–306. https://doi.org/10.2752/175470811X13071166525216.
Kimbell, L. (2012). Rethinking design thinking: Part II. Design and Culture, 4(2), 129–148. https://doi.org/10.2752/175470812X13281948975413.
Lacerda, F., & Lima-Marques, M. (2014). Information architecture as a discipline—A methodological approach. In A. Resmini (Ed.), Reframing Information Architecture. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-06492-5.
Laland, K. N., Odling-Smee, F. J., & Feldman, M. W. (2001). Niche construction, ecological inheritance, and cycles of contingency in evolution. In S. Oyama, P. E. Griffiths, & R. D. Gray (Eds.), Cycles of contingency: Developmental systems and evolution. MIT Press.
Latour, B. (1992). Where are the missing masses? The sociology of a few mundane artifacts. In W. Bijker, T. Hughes, & T. Pinch (Eds.), The social construction of technical systems (pp. 225–258). MIT Press.
Levin, K., Cashore, B., Bernstein, S., & Auld, G. (2012). Overcoming the tragedy of super wicked problems: Constraining our future selves to ameliorate global climate change. Policy Sciences, 45, 123–152. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11077-012-9151-0.
Malazita, J. W. (2018). Astrobiology’s cosmopolitics and the search for an origin myth for the anthropocene. Biological Theory, 13(2), 111–120. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13752-017-0281-7.
McFadden, S. (2014, April 2). Teaching the camera to see my skin. BuzzFeed News. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/syreetamcfadden/teaching-the-camera-to-see-my-skin.
Meikle, J. (1995). American plastic: A cultural history. Rutgers University Press.
Mesle, C. R. (2008). Process-relational philosophy: An introduction to Alfred North Whitehead. Templeton Press.
Morgan, E. J. (2006). The world is watching: Polaroid and South Africa. Enterprise & Society, 7(3), 520–549. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1467222700004390.
Morville, P. (2011). Editorial: The system of information architecture. Journal of Information Architecture, 2(3). http://journalofia.org/volume3/issue2/01-morville/.
Morville, P. (2014). Intertwingled: Information changes everything. Semantic Studios.
Nelson, H. G., & Stolterman, E. (2012). The design way: Intentional change in an unpredictable World. MIT Press.
Nieusma, D. (2004). Alternative design scholarship: Working toward appropriate design. Design Issues, 20(3), 13–24.
O’Neil, C. (2016). Weapons of math destruction: How big data increases inequality and threatens democracy. Crown Publishers.
Ogbonnaya-Ogburu, I. F., Smith, A. D. R., To, A., & Toyama, K. (2020). Critical race theory for HCI. In Proceedings of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’20). https://doi.org/10.1145/3313831.3376392.
Oyama, S., Griffiths, P. E., & Gray, R. D. (2001). Cycles of contingency: Developmental systems and evolution. MIT Press.
Pabortsava, K., & Lampitt, R. S. (2020). High concentrations of plastic hidden beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. Nature Communication, 11, 4073. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17932-9.
Powles, J., & Nissenbaum, H. (2018). The Seductive Diversion of ‘Solving’ Bias in Artificial Intelligence. OneZero. Retrieved August 16, 2020 from https://onezero.medium.com/the-seductive-diversion-of-solving-bias-in-artificial-intelligence-890df5e5ef53.
Resmini A., & Lindenfalk B. (2021). Mapping experience ecosystems as emergent actor-created spaces. In A. Hameurlain, A. M. Tjoa, & R. Chbeir (Eds.), Transactions on Large-Scale Data- and Knowledge-Centered Systems XLVII (vol. 12630). Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-62919-2_1.
Resmini, A., & Rosati, L. (2011). Pervasive information architecture: Designing cross-channel user experiences. Morgan Kaufmann.
Rittel, H. W. J., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4, 155–169.
Roth, L. (2009). Looking at shirley, the ultimate norm: Colour balance, image technologies, and cognitive equity. Canadian Journal of Communication, 34(1), 111–136.
Simonite, T. (2019, July 22). The best algorithms struggle to recognize black faces equally. Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/best-algorithms-struggle-recognize-black-faces-equally/.
Smith, D. (2013, January 25). ‘Racism’ of early colour photography explored in art exhibition. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/jan/25/racism-colour-photography-exhibition.
Strydom, P. (2016). The sociocultural self-creation of a natural category: Social-theoretical reflections on human agency under the temporal conditions of the Anthropocene. European Journal of Social Theory, 20(1), 61–79. https://doi.org/10.1177/1368431016643330.
Suchman, L. (1993). Do categories have politics? The language/action perspective reconsidered. In G. De Michelis, C. Simone, & K. Schmidt (Eds.), Proceedings of the Third European Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work.
Suchman, L. (1995). Speech acts and voices: Response to Winograd at al. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), 3, 85–95.
Suchman, L. (2002). Located accountabilities in technology production. Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems, 14(2), 91–105.
Suchman, L. (2009). Agencies in technology design: Feminist reconfigurations. https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/fass/resources/sociology-online-papers/papers/suchman-agenciestechnodesign.pdf.
Tucker, J. A., et al. (2018). Social media, political polarization, and political disinformation: A review of the scientific literature. The Hewlett Foundation. https://hewlett.org/library/social-media-political-polarization-political-disinformation-review-scientific-literature/.
Tunstall, E. (2013). Decolonizing design innovation: Design anthropology, critical anthropology, and indigenous knowledge. In W. Gunn, T. Otto, & R. C. Smith (Eds.), Design anthropology: Theory and practice (pp. 232–250). Bloomsbury Academic. http://doi.org/10.5040/9781474214698.ch-013.
Tyszczuk, R. (2014). Architecture of the Anthropocene. Scroope: The Cambridge Architecture Journal (23), 67–73.
Vardouli, T. (2015). Making use: Attitudes to human-artifact engagements. Design Studies, 41, 137–161. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.destud.2015.08.002.
Villamil, A. N. (2020, August 14). Dear designers…we need to talk about race [Presentation]. QRCA Multicultural SIG. https://www.qrca.org/events/EventDetails.aspx?id=1388761.
von Busch, O., & Palmås, K. (2017). Social means do not justify corruptible ends: A realist perspective of social innovation and design. She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 2(4), 275–287. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sheji.2017.07.002.
Wendt, T. (2017). Persistent fools: Cunning intelligence and the politics of design.
Willis, A. (2006). Ontological designing. Design Philosophy Papers, 4(2), 69–92.
Wodtke, C., & Govella, A. (2009). Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web (2nd ed.). New Riders.
Woolgar, S. (1997). Configuring the user. In K. Grint & S. Woolgar, The machine at work: Technology, work, and organization.
Worm, B., et al. (2017). Plastic as a Persistent Marine Pollutant. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 42, 1–26. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-environ-102016-060700.
Wright, S. L., & Kelly, F. J. (2017). Plastic and human health: A micro issue? Environmental Science and Technology, 51(12), 6634–6647. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.7b00423.
Zalasiewicz, J., et al. (2015). When did the Anthropocene begin? A mid-twentieth century boundary level is stratigraphically optimal. Quaternary International, 383, 196–203. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2014.11.045.
The original idea for “design in the Anthropocene,” the emphasis on reflexivity, the use of developmental, processual, and relational perspectives, and much else in this chapter result from studies and personal conversations with Linnda Caporal. In addition, Jason Hobbs, Alba Villamil, Cennydd Bowles, Emily Devlin, Andrea Resmini, and Sarah Rice shaped this chapter through critical dialogue and feedback. Finally, the organizers and participants of the Academics and Practitioners Roundtable, and the members of the Ethical Technology online community, have all scaffolded my thinking on this topic in numerous ways.
Editors and Affiliations
© 2021 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG
About this chapter
Cite this chapter
Zollman, D. (2021). Information Architecture in the Anthropocene. In: Resmini, A., Rice, S.A., Irizarry, B. (eds) Advances in Information Architecture. Human–Computer Interaction Series. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-63205-2_22
Publisher Name: Springer, Cham
Print ISBN: 978-3-030-63204-5
Online ISBN: 978-3-030-63205-2