This article is the second in a three-part series that explores architecture as it relates to the design of business software. Read part one, The Best Business Software Is Built through Human-Centered Design.
If you were to hire an architect to design a new residence or to renovate your existing home, you’d expect that the two of you would have a great many conversations. The architect would ask what functions the structure will need to serve: Who will live here? Are there any children? How many bedrooms and baths will you need? How many cars do you have? Will you want a gym? How much storage space do you need? Do you have any pets?
Your architect also would want to know how you and your family plan to use your home: Do you like to have an informal breakfast with your children, in a room where it’s okay to spill things? Do you keep many documents in your home office? How do you like to entertain? Could you use two dishwashers? Will you want guest accommodations in a separate wing?
In addition, your architect would ask about your goals for the house: Should the plans allow for expansion? What kinds of energy efficiencies would you like to achieve? And of course you’d be asked what architectural vocabulary seems most natural and most appealing to you: Georgian? Postmodern? Mediterranean?
“The most effective business software products—those that anticipate and satisfy our needs—are developed in a way that parallels this process, starting with an analysis of how the product will be used.”
After gathering all this information, your architect would begin making sketches on paper to show how your house might look and how each room would physically relate to the others. Once you’d reached a consensus on the approach, the design would be developed, from concept drawings to 3D models. During the planning process you’d be shown diagrams of progressive complexity, reconfirming each feature. If you have no experience in reading schematic drawings, your architect probably would make additional drawings to explain how various elevations will look, and later you might be shown computer-generated images of each room.
Throughout the design development phase, you and your architect would collaborate in making decisions about the features that would be built into your house and the ways you plan to use them, and your architect would interpret these decisions through specifications that would reflect engineering considerations such as the structure and location of the plumbing, electrical, and security systems. At each stage, you’d be shown working drawings and samples of materials to be sure that everyone agrees upon how the finished result should look: The library will have built-in bookshelves and lateral file drawers, and this is how they’ll look; the deck will be made of recycled teak, and here is a sample that shows the grain of the wood and its color.
“The great majority of individuals assuming design responsibility are technologists who do not possess the right people skills, and business analysts who are simply not qualified to design a product.”
Once you’d given your approval, your architect would express these decisions as blueprints and specifications and would oversee their execution by the general contractor, the builders, the electricians, and the plumbers. The specifications could spell out the construction and components of your house down to the last doorknob: the pitch of the roof, the width of the hallways, the location of the security alarms, and thousands of features inside the walls that you’d never see. Throughout the construction phase, you’d be able to visit the site, monitor the progress of the project, and test each feature.
The most effective business software products—those that anticipate and satisfy our needs—are developed in a way that parallels this process, starting with an analysis of how the product will be used. But although some information architects and software designers have both the communications and design expertise to gather and interpret this information, the great majority of individuals assuming design responsibility are technologists who do not possess those people skills, and business analysts who are simply not qualified to design a product.
For more insights from Electronic Ink CEO Harold Hambrose, read his best-selling business book, A Wrench in the System: What’s Sabotaging Your Business Software and How You Can Release the Power to Innovate.