How to Design Software Architecture: Top Tips and Best Practices (2023)

You wouldn’t want to jump into a project without a solid plan, and software architecture design is no different. By making this process more effective, you can account for all of your requirements properly and give stakeholders the opportunity to provide their input.

Using technical visuals and a careful planning process, you can outline your software architecture and design before you get started on a prototype.

What is software architecture design?

Software architecture design uses programming knowledge to plan the high-level design of software so that detail can be added later, allowing software teams to sketch out the big picture and begin preparing a prototype.

By following software architecture design tips and best practices, software developers can think through their software’s characteristics and determine how to design software architecture.

How to design software architecture in 5 steps

1. Have a clear understanding of your requirements

Every design you embark on will have both functional and non-functional requirements. These requirements guide your software architecture along and allow you to finish the project with an end product that your stakeholders are satisfied with.

Without a clear understanding of these requirements from the beginning, your team runs the risk of getting lost, emphasizing the wrong requirements at the expense of others, or using an inefficient amount of internal resources.

Gain a better understanding through visuals—follow these steps to map out your requirements in an intelligent diagramming platform like Lucidchart:

  • Start with a high-level view: Sketch out your requirements at a “helicopter view” first. Mind mapping is an effective way to do this.

  • Map your functional requirements: You can use verbs to help you cluster nouns together. For example, verbs such as “view” and “edit” can link “account” or “profile” to each other in a mind map of functional areas.

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  • Consider non-functional requirements: While you’re working on your mind map, you can jot down your non-functional requirements for later. A requirement like “performance” is key but is probably too abstract to place on the mind map.

Your requirements should be used to shape your scope of work and plan out your project.

2. Start thinking about each component

Let’s face it—with the powerful influence your functional requirements have on your project, your design and technology options may be already decided once you’ve mapped out your requirements.

Without getting too far ahead of yourself thinking about implementation, you’ll need to find out which requirements pose significant challenges to your design or your project plan. Some requirements may actually be impossible under certain assumptions or choices.

  • Start with a “perfect world”: What would your design look like if you could create it perfectly?

  • Consider and document the implications of your requirements: Start a working draft with your team and develop it gradually. First, you want to look at what your requirements imply for your design—for instance, where individual items from your stakeholder wish list may contradict each other or be in conflict with other functional and non-functional requirements.

  • Wait and design the final architecture later: In all likelihood, your architecture planning will change throughout this process, so don’t expect the first draft to resemble the final result.

3. Divide your architecture into slices

Your architecture design, naturally, moves into a planning phase as you decide how you’ll deliver on your design. Dividing your architecture into slices can help you craft this plan in a way that delivers value to users and appropriately plans your use of development resources.

It’s helpful to think about slicing a cake. Most people slice a cake vertically, through each layer. Let’s say a full slice has frosting, filling, and two or three layers of sponge cake inside. That vertical slice has a little of everything. Cakes can also be sliced horizontally, separating individual layers.

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Similarly, if each slice is a story used to plan your software architecture, then there are layers— slicing the cake vertically creates stories centered around individual features, while slicing horizontally reveals individual components. You need both horizontal and vertical thinking for your project.

Agile focuses on vertical slices, allowing your team to quickly deliver value. This approach provides customers with product progress quickly and the development team with feedback on each layer behind a feature. One vertical slice of your software architecture for an e-commerce website might be the checkout process.

In your “checkout” vertical cake slice, you can see the data layer storing the checkout information, the middle layer API, and the top layer user interface that shoppers see. With vertical slices, you can decide which features to deliver and choose iterative pieces.

By diagramming the layers involved in your software architecture project, you can visualize the entire piece and how each layer influences other layers. As you plan, take individual Agile cake slices and diagram how they connect.

4. Prototype

Always create a prototype. Prototypes allow you to fail fast and early—providing quick feedback and allowing you to discover your proof-of-concept. This is an important part of validating your work and checking your assumptions to make sure they’re valid and thorough.

As you create your prototype, remember that the first few iterations will never be perfect and no final iteration will be completely perfect, either. One of the advantages of prototyping is that it doesn’t set itself up as a finished product and most people instinctively go into a prototype process expecting at least some rough edges.

Take advantage of the prototype phase. This is no substitute for testing, but it is a crucial part of the testing you’ll need to do.

  • Keep a careful revision history: Of course, if you don’t document what you learn from prototyping, you run the risk of repeating your mistakes. Write everything down—thoroughly document your design decisions and the changes you make along the way.

  • Have a single source of truth: You don’t want multiple changes and different versions to sidetrack your progress, so set up robust version control focused on a single source for your documentation.

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  • Diagram your prototypes: You can use diagrams to help you manage prototype changes and visualize the differences between each version.

5. Identify and quantify non-functional requirements

In addition to the functional requirements, you’ll have non-functional requirements to take into consideration. These requirements are as essential to design as your functional requirements are because they define the system’s characteristics.

Non-functional requirements are often high-level quality requirements for the entire project, but not always. Your system may have non-functional requirements that are specific to just part of your software architecture. As such, you have to be prepared to loop in stakeholders for local non-functional requirements. For instance, a particular vertical slice of the project may interest the customer service team in particular, and that team may have their own expectations about those non-functional requirements.

It’s not enough to say you want performance, portability, or scalability, though. Non-functional requirements must also be quantified. No project can have absolutely perfect performance: “performance” must be specified and limited in order to meet other requirements.

Since your non-functional requirements play a role in shaping your design, you can’t avoid defining them. Here are some other requirements you may want to consider:

Diagramming your non-functional requirements can help your team see how you’re quantifying them while also placing specific requirements in relevant contexts. Although you don’t have to worry about optimizing everything just yet, you do also need to consider what effort and resources might be necessary to optimize these non-functional requirements later.

Best practices for software architecture design

As you undertake your design project, these best practices will help you stay grounded in good design principles.

Visualize your design

Using visuals throughout your design concept work as well as your implementation allows your team to see the high-level perspective behind your design. Diagrams are a great way to visualize processes and different aspects of your design choices.

Don’t choose patterns

Keep your design process focused on the bigger picture without resorting to patterns as a starting point. Instead of using patterns, stay very high-level with a view of overall components to reduce the risk of over-engineering your systems.

Remember that the first design is only the first iteration

With your first design, you’re getting a better idea of the technical challenges and obstacles you’ll face with your architecture development. Don’t expect the first design to be anything more than a prototype!

Don’t worry—your architecture design will grow and develop, allowing you to figure out more of the details over time.

Be cautious of scope creep

Even if it seems tempting to allow your scope to grow, scope creep comes at the expense of your other requirements and can eat up necessary resources. To stop scope creep, establish a working draft project plan that accounts for your requirements and have a conversation with stakeholders about limits to non-functional requirements. You don’t want any unmet expectations to adversely affect your project.

Keep boundaries and interfaces in mind

As you plan your design, think about interfaces between components and note the boundaries of your system. Start assigning responsibilities so when you work on your prototypes and next iterations, you have this information available for easy reference.

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Improve your software architecture design now

Software architecture design is more effective when there is a plan, stakeholder input, and the right approach to outlining requirements for the project. Don’t skimp on this early planning, and your efforts can be rewarded with a smoother project experience.

FAQs

What are the 5 stages of architectural design process? ›

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) defines Five Phases of Architecture that are commonly referred to throughout the industry: Schematic Design, Design Development, Contract Documents, Bidding, Contract Administration.

What are the 4 elements that make up a software architectural style? ›

2.1 What Software Architecture Is and What It Isn't
  • The system consists of four elements.
  • Three of the elements- Prop Loss Model (MODP), Reverb Model (MODR), and Noise Model (MODN)-might have more in common with each other than with the fourth-Control Process (CP)-because they are positioned next to each other.

What are the 5 Steps to software design? ›

At the most basic level, we employ five stages during the software design process: research, ideation, design, development and iteration. These five elements parallel the most basic questions of “who, what, when, where and how” that are needed to fully answer any set of questions.

What are the basic tips on how do you develop design solutions in architecture? ›

Here are 10 Tips on how to Develop Design Concepts in Architecture.
  1. Read books.
  2. Sketch out your ideas.
  3. Look into case studies.
  4. Approach your idea from different angles.
  5. Take a break, do something else.
  6. Break it down – make a list.
  7. Design in 3D.
  8. Explore Various Permutations.

What are the 7 principles of architecture? ›

Seven principles encompass an interesting design.
  • Balance.
  • Rhythm.
  • Emphasis.
  • Proportion and scale.
  • Movement.
  • Contrast.
  • Unity.

What are the 7 design phases in architecture? ›

In this post, we review the seven phases of architectural design: Pre-Design, Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documents, Permit, Bidding, and Construction Administration.

What are the 3 types of architectural practices? ›

For architecture firms there are three common business models that differentiate firms and how they are run: Efficiency based, Experience based, and Expertise based offices.

What are the important element of software architecture? ›

Software architecture looks at important elements like structural elements and their interfaces, the behavior and collaboration of those elements, compositions of the elements within the larger system, how the architectural decisions help meet business objectives, and whether the styles will guide the organization.

Which software is most used in architecture? ›

Top Ten Design Software for Architects
  • Rhino 3D. Since its creation in 1998, Rhino 3D has become one of the most popular tools for architectural design. ...
  • Revit Architecture. The building information modelling (BIM) concept is key in modern architecture. ...
  • SketchUp. ...
  • V-Ray. ...
  • AutoCAD. ...
  • Maya. ...
  • ArchiCAD. ...
  • Grasshopper.

What are the 5 elements of architecture? ›

'The Five Points of a New Architecture' (1927)
  • Pilotis. Replacement of ground floor supporting walls by a grid of reinforced concrete columns that bear the structural load is the basis of the new aesthetic.
  • The free design of the ground plan. ...
  • The free design of the façade. ...
  • Horizontal windows. ...
  • Roof garden.

What are the 3 important elements of architecture? ›

Writing near the end of the first century B.C.E., Roman architect Vitruvius Pollio identified three elements necessary for a well-designed building: firmitas, utilitas, and venustas.

What are the 10 steps of the design process? ›

The 10 Steps to Design Thinking
  • Identify needs. This is the most critical and most difficult step. ...
  • Gather information. This is the research phase. ...
  • Stakeholder analysis. ...
  • Operational research. ...
  • Hazard analysis. ...
  • Specification creation. ...
  • Creative design. ...
  • Conceptual design.
15 Feb 2019

What are the 11 steps in the design process? ›

Stages in the Design Process
  1. Analyze the situation. Before beginning the design, sort out what problem you are trying to address.
  2. Write a brief. ...
  3. Research the problem. ...
  4. Write a specification. ...
  5. Work out possible solutions. ...
  6. Select a preferred solution. ...
  7. Prepare working drawings and plan ahead. ...
  8. Construct a prototype.

What makes a design good architecture? ›

Good Architectural Design is preparing clear instructions for constructing the building as planned. Good Architectural Designs tend to be identified as timeless artifacts, durable and reliable by the population and they shall be equally easier to maintain.

What are the steps in designing process of architecture? ›

5 Phases of Architectural Design
  1. Phase 1: Schematic Design.
  2. Phase 2: Design Development.
  3. Phase 3: Construction Documents.
  4. Phase 4: Bidding.
  5. Phase 5: Construction Administration.

What makes a great architectural design? ›

It should work well and answer all codes, but that is only the beginning point. It should use minimal amounts of energy both in construction and in use. It should offer spaces that do not imprison and pigeonhole us. It should enhance its site.

What are the 5 main design principles? ›

Summary: The principles of scale, visual hierarchy, balance, contrast, and Gestalt not only create beautiful designs, but also increase usability when applied correctly.

What are the 8 key principles of design? ›

The eight principles of design every designer should know
  • Alignment. Making sure the elements of any design are aligned is essential. ...
  • Hierarchy. Hierarchy means putting your design's most important message or purpose front and center. ...
  • Contrast. ...
  • Repetition. ...
  • Proximity. ...
  • Balance. ...
  • Color. ...
  • Space.

What is the golden rule in architecture? ›

One of the simplest ways to impart a sense of balance to a structure is to base it off the principles of the golden rectangle. To explain it simply, a golden rectangle signifies any shape that can be wholly divided into up into a square and a rectangle that, when combined, establish a ratio of 1:1.61.

What are the 10 architectural design elements? ›

Architectural Design Elements in Detail
  • Color. The most important aspect of any design is the selection and usage of the colour schemes in a particular design. ...
  • Light. ...
  • Tone. ...
  • Shape/Form. ...
  • Direction. ...
  • Proportion. ...
  • Value. ...
  • Texture/Pattern.

What are the 10 main principles of design? ›

There are 10 principles of design in total! They're also known as the elements of visual design, and are: movement, balance, contrast, proportion, repetition, rhythm, variety, emphasis, harmony, and unity.

What is the 30 60 90 design process? ›

OVERALL PURPOSE OF THE 30-60-90% DESIGN PROCESS

Efficiently develop quality contract documents through a process that: 1) identifies stakeholders and their interests; 2) documents and defines design requirements; and 3) coordinates with permitting, environmental, regulatory and land acquisition needs.

What are the 9 steps of the design process? ›

  • Identify the Problem.
  • Do Research.
  • Develop Possible Solutions.
  • Choose One Solution.
  • Design and Construct a Prototype.
  • Test the Prototype.
  • Communicate Results.
  • Evaluate and Redesign.

What are the 6 design steps? ›

The Engineering Design Process includes six steps. For each step, click the button for an example of how engineers might go about designing a new car.
  • Step 1: State the Problem. ...
  • Step 2: Generate Ideas. ...
  • Step 3: Plan and Select a Solution. ...
  • Step 4: Build the Item. ...
  • Step 5: Evaluate. ...
  • Step 6: Present the Results.

What are the 3 main functions of an architect? ›

Architect: job description
  • creating building designs and highly detailed drawings both by hand and by using specialist computer-aided design (CAD) applications.
  • liaising with construction professionals about the feasibility of potential projects.

What are architecture methods? ›

Put simply, an architectural methodology is a system of principles and methods for designing and constructing enterprise architectures. It is used to guide the development process and ensure that the final product meets the organisation's specific needs.

What are the 3 types of architectural design models in software engineering? ›

Software Architectural Models

Static type of architectural structural model represents the major system components. Dynamic type of architectural process model represents the process structure of the system. Distribution type of architectural model represents how the component is distributed across various computers.

What is the main purpose of software architecture? ›

The software architecture of a system represents the design decisions related to overall system structure and behavior. Architecture helps stakeholders understand and analyze how the system will achieve essential qualities such as modifiability, availability, and security.

What are the 3 characteristics of good software? ›

Maintainability - The software should be easy to maintain by any user. Flexibility - The software should be flexible to any changes made to it. Extensibility - There should not be any problem with the software on increasing the number of functions performed by it.

How do you design a system architecture? ›

Architecture design can be de divided into the steps given below:
  1. Analyze the requirements.
  2. Define use cases for the system.
  3. Identify processors/modules to implement the use cases.
  4. Select operating system and hardware platform.
  5. Assign requirements to individual processors/modules.
  6. Define sequence diagrams at processor level.

What are four main uses for architecture? ›

Architectural form is derived from 4 basic elements that are further elaborated until they begin to take form and serve as reference points for the three-dimensional spaces that we inhabit. The 4 primary elements of architecture include the point, line, plane, and volume.

Which design software is mostly used? ›

Adobe Photoshop is the most popular and versatile software on the market that is favoured by most graphic designers, digital artists and photo editors etc.

What are some architectural styles for designing software? ›

The three most prevalent styles of software architecture are data-centric style, layered style, and object-oriented style. The layered style, also called the n-tier architectural style, has four layers: Presentation: This is the level of the layered system that is referred to as the user interface.

What is a good software design? ›

Good software design plans and makes allowances for added features, algorithm changes, and new integrations. By planning, you'll save valuable time, headache, and cost on maintenance, upkeep, and extension of the original software. Designing software is an exercise in problem-solving.

What are software design techniques? ›

 The Software Design Techniques that takes place are:  Stepwise Refinement  Levels Of Abstraction  Structured Design  Integrated Top-Down Develpoment  Jackson Structured Programming. 3.

What are the 7 elements of great design? ›

The elements of design are the fundamental aspects of any visual design which include shape, color, space, form, line, value, and texture.

What are architecture principles? ›

Architecture principles define the underlying general rules and guidelines for the use and deployment of all IT resources and assets across the enterprise. They reflect a level of consensus among the various elements of the enterprise, and form the basis for making future IT decisions.

What are architectural best practices? ›

AIA Best Practices are a collection of relevant, experience-based knowledge and expert advice on firm management, project delivery, contracts, and more, aligned with the Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice, 15th edition. You'll find: essential knowledge based on deep experience.

What are the 7 branches of architecture? ›

Below is a list of 7 branches of architecture for you to consider:
  • Landscape Architect. ...
  • Urban Planner. ...
  • Restoration Architect. ...
  • Research Architect. ...
  • Lighting Architect. ...
  • Political Architect. ...
  • Extreme Architect.
7 Nov 2016

What are the 7 visual design principles in architecture? ›

The fundamental principles of design are: Emphasis, Balance and Alignment, Contrast, Repetition, Proportion, Movement and White Space.

What makes a good architecture process? ›

These principles are: Durability (Firmatis) – It should stand up robustly and remain in good condition. Utility (Utilitas) – It should be useful and function well for the people using it. Beauty (Venustatis) – It should delight people and raise their spirits.

What are 3 important aspects to designing a system process? ›

In successful systems design, three main components must be considered and managed effectively. These are quality, timeliness and cost-effectiveness.

What is the importance of software architecture? ›

A software architect makes important decisions regarding the software that goes on to define its overall integrity. A good software architecture helps define attributes such as performance, quality, scalability, maintainability, manageability, and usability.

What is the role of software architecture? ›

A software architect makes high-level design choices and frames technical standards. This might include tools, software coding standards, or platforms to be used. To be effective, a software architect needs broad (and deep) technical knowledge to make good decisions.

What are the 4 design process? ›

There are several models that systematize the design thinking process. In the online course Design Thinking and Innovation, Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar leverages a four-stage framework: clarify, ideate, develop, and implement.

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