Monday, July 5, 2010

On Thinking Architecturally

Tim Brown (CEO of IDEO) has written a great book on design thinking called Change by Design. Check out the link to see his mind-map of what the book is about.

The basic premise of the book, why its about design thinking rather just design, is that design thinkers take a far more holistic approach to solving design problems. They use an interdisciplinary approach, think around the problem, including viewing the constraints as enablers rather than what should be fought against, and come up with ideas that would otherwise not have been thought of if 'ordinary' design had been applied. One of the case studies Tim uses in the book is the setting up of a live laboratory in the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota to develop new approaches to patient care which involved designers, health care professionals, business strategists and patients to develop ideas for the "patient-provider experience". A methodology called SPARC (See-Plan-Refine-Communicate) was adopted (which is I suspect based on the Deming Cycle) to show how design thinking could be applied not only to product design but also service design.

Returning to the mind-map that is on the inside front-cover of Change by Design its two starting points are 'What' (is it we are trying to do/solve) and 'How' (are we going to approach the design). This fits nicely with my own concept of what we term 'architectural thinking' where we add an additional 'node' which is 'Why' (are we doing it this way). I prefer to illustrate this as a Venn diagram as shown below. The intersection of the three sets is what we consider when 'thinking architecturally'.

  • What - The requirements we are trying to address. Architectural thinking focuses is on those requirements (functional, qualities and constraints) we think are architecturally significant in some way.
  • Why - Captures the key decisions we are making. Architectural thinking focuses on the architectural aspects which lead to major structuring, placement or procurement decisions. Could be explicit (as a fully documented decision with options looked at and rational for making the decision we did) or implicit in a diagram or model.
  • How - The design and implementation of the system. Architectural thinking focuses on those elements of the design that are significant to the architecture (maybe patterns applied, key principles adopted etc).
The key thing in all this is that the thinking applies to the significant elements not everything. The key skill of the architect is to understand which things are important and which can be left to someone else to fret over.

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