Architecture and Experience

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Designing for Forgettability

“Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible, serving us without drawing attention to itself.” – Donald A. Norman

When non-technical people hear terms like Solution Architecture, one of two things happen. Either they think about the layers of mystery behind the applications that they love (or hate) or they stop listening. In our view, Solution Architecture is not only about the layers behind the screen. It is also about the design of the visible things, and all of this considered as a whole.

When Donald Norman, author of the Design of Everyday Things and former User Experience Architect and executive at Apple and Hewlett Packard speaks about good design, he is referring to the User Experience. As a researcher, educator, consultant, and executive, his focus has been on user-centered design. Considering his association with Apple, we might be tempted to think that aesthetics is important to Norman. To the contrary, he considers aesthetics to be secondary to more cognitive aspects of the user experience such as simplifying the structure of tasks, making things visible or at least easily discoverable, designing for error and other user-centered design principles.

From a holistic Solution Architecture perspective, user task structures go far deeper than the visible interface. They involve business rules, expressed in code and constraints. They involve data models. They involve communication between layers, components, and external providers and consumers of data. All these things take place behind the scenes in layers of hardware and software that work together best when carefully planned by experienced solution architects. The system is fast. It makes sense. It is easy to use. Information is accurate, clear, complete, and well-organized. 

When everything goes according to plan, the result is not memorable. In Norman’s words the solution operates “without drawing attention to itself”. Sound Solution Architecture is, in this sense, the result of the design of the visible and the invisible so that the non-technical user can accomplish important things in a way so natural as to make the User Experience forgettable!

It’s okay for your business users to ignore you when you talk too long about sound Solution Architecture. Like the plumbing behind the walls in your house or the rafters in your ceiling, the architectural components of a solution should be invisible and rarely discussed. Your business users want to do their jobs without the technology becoming a conversation topic. Nobody goes home at night and tells their family about the great user experience they had entering a sales order. An easily forgotten User Experience is a sign of a well-considered Solution Architecture.