Is Architecture an Art or a Science? The reality is that Art and Science are more closely linked than we might think – and the best answers will come from a combination of art and science, particularly in this current environment of innovation and disruption. The best architects are those that are creative and recognize good answers intuitively, combined with sufficient technical depth to create solutions that can be sustained and evolved over time.
There are few principles that I apply when thinking of architecture :
Innovation – its not sufficient in our current environment to simply design something that works, our business reality is that we are being challenged by new business models that can have a significant impact on our society. We need to apply innovation to solutions – you don’t get disruption without inspiration.
Agility – perhaps the most important feature of an architecture is to be able to adapt to future change – and this is more important now than ever. Our future is uncertain, we know things will change and many of these changes will be completely outside our control and unpredictable – and the change is happening faster than ever. Agility then becomes one of the most important characteristics of a new solution – designing for the future is more important than a perfect solution for today.
Human – we have moved beyond the era of automating processes and making humans fit around technology that was constrained by capacity – we can now create solutions that fit around humans, and putting humans a the centre of design is essential to the successful solutions of the future.
Simplicity – most systems I deal with are massively complex – implementations of thousands of pages of legislation, policy and complexity that has evolved over decades. We have created ourselves a legacy of complexity that is in part due to a history of constrained technology and poor design. Building a mindset of simplicity is intrinsically very hard – particularly as it means accepting that something that may have been built into a system in the past should be addressed with more flexibility and simplicity in the future. Simplicity should apply to all aspects of design – from the legislation to the solution.
Abstraction & Patterns – one method to address simplicity is abstraction and patterns – finding common approaches that generalize a solution so that it can work across multiple use-cases, and finding patterns that allow different use-cases to be configured into a general function rather than coded independently. Abstraction & Patterns are the foundation of simplicity but taken too far can create solutions that very few people understand. The power of abstraction and patterns is however significant – the true foundation of a good architecture will be found in its patterns.
Decoupling – the principle of modularity and decoupling has been around almost since the start of IT – yet we continue to struggle with the reality of how to make this work. Our most current invocation of microservices and decoupling has promise – particularly to decouple the presentation tier from transaction systems. We should not however lose focus on the lessons learnt through SOA – data models are still foundational to the business systems we create and are perhaps the biggest complexity.
Winners – a good architect will pick winners – winners apply to all aspects of the solution from platforms to vendors to patterns. Picking winners creates solutions that are sustainable and successful in the longer term. The market of winners isn’t always predictable but having a broad understanding of the IT market is essential to understand who is going to be successful in the future and enable a sustainable solution – particularly for large organisations that need the confidence and backing of proven solutions given the investment and scale of implementation.
Most importantly architecture should capture beauty – beauty in the simplicity and elegance of design, beauty in the experience it provides, beauty in the innovation it captures. We are intrinsically creative beings and the best architecture will be a combination of art and science – art providing the beauty and science/technology providing the substance.