August 6, 2019

Characteristics of a Good Design?

  —What characteristics make up a good design?

In What is Good Design (Part 1), I was trying to characterize a good design. My thinking has changed since I wrote that article. I’m trying to view design and architecture as the same thing, but acknowledge that architecture is design that focuses on things that are expensive to change.

Design in this context can be viewed as anything that isn’t architecture (can be changed easily–easier).

It’s a position that has been influenced by a variety of factors. A good starting place is Ruth Malan’s Visual Architecting Keynote. I explore Ruth’s keynote in Documenting Architecture Decisions and Big Ball of Mud.

A key insight in Ruth’s keynote.

We’re holding these two ideas about architecture in creative suspension – architecture is decisions about “the important stuff” where important is distinguished by cost of change, and architecture is about the structure of the system, which has something to do with (lowering) the cost of change.

I like the notion of creative suspension. It provides insight on the difference between architecture and design.

A good architecture seeks to minimize cost of change by managing things that are hard to change. A good design follows the same thought trajectory if that design is dealing with important stuff (e.g., relationships between concepts). A good design follows a different thought trajectory if that design is dealing with encapsulated stuff (e.g., the implementation of a concept).

In What is Design (Part 1), I was searching for a way to frame a direction for my team on what constitutes good design. Recall, in the context of that question I said

This important to help align the team around the objective of improving our designs–how do we know good design when we see it?

At the time, I was seeking a concept that could be articulated as a goal and guidance on knowing if we where headed in the right direction.

Does Ruth’s keynote improve my chance of success here? I think it does. Controlling cost is an architecture issue. Design that isn’t expensive to change is not architecture.

How does Ruth’s keynote improve my chance of success? I still don’t have a notion of good design other than it solves a problem whose constraints and use help define it. I have a good notion of the difference between architecture and design but that pushed the vagueness of these notions into cost. I did solve one problem: architecture and design are the same thing. Just different in terms of diffculty to change (hence cost).

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