The Application of Design Architecture


I was speaking with a new team member yesterday, getting to know them a little bit and providing a high level overview of the work and the team and he said something that made me think, and I haven’t been able to shake it. As a former developer he related the story of joining the Enterprise Architecture team with very little practical experience in the field, and more importantly what he had learned and applied to his life.

For those that aren’t familiar with the role, a technology Enterprise Architect is essentially the same as the architect that designs your home, an office building, or a unique design architecture hybrid, only instead of working with building blocks of wood, steel, and glass they use technology systems and logical data models.

Many Enterprise Architects come from a software development background, but there is a key and fundamental change that they need to make in their approach when the move from development to architecture and that is the shift from analytical and logical thinking to a more conceptual and design oriented thought pattern. The concept of “helicopter thinking” as outlined in Practical Intelligence is a critical skill, moving effectively from the details to the clouds in order to assess the big picture of how thinks fit together and operate, as well as ensure that the details all work at ground level.

Similarly a building architect will move between the big picture components of a building, to the overall design themes and elements, through to the alignment of the details of the trim and fixtures to ensure a coherent whole at the end of the design.

I myself am a big proponent of these same thought patterns in creative problem solving and product or service development, leveraging design thinking and other similar conceptual frameworks to arrive at an elegant, functional, customer oriented, and often disruptive and always coherent finished whole.

The piece I hadn’t consciously connected to this “design architecture” mindset was its applicability to almost every part of our personal and professional lives.

It is easy to think in terms of architecture and design when you are building a new product or service for work, tinkering as a maker in the garage, or doing home renovations, but why don’t we use those same principles to help us create the lives we want by aligning our decisions and priorities to the architecture we want to see in the end.

The small decisions we make every day are akin to the detailed design decisions that an architect makes when they select the trim, fixtures, and hardware to go into their building to ensure that the finished product is consistent when complete. But without a vision of the finished product and the story that you want it to tell, it is impossible to frame the little decisions to get you to the end goal.

There’s a great old quote:

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”  – Lewis Carroll

So take the time to think like an architect for your life, design and define the big goals and the vision you have for the finished product, and then helicopter back down to make your every day choices in alignment with that big vision.

Remember to regularly helicopter back up to look at the big picture to make sure that it is still coming together the way you envisioned it and make adjustments or refinements to the design as you go.

One last note – the great part about architecture and design is that there you can change anything in your design any time up until you build it, and even then if you’re objective there are few things that even once built can’t be changed or modified with very little work if it doesn’t look right. But remember the longer you wait to adjust a design or architecture decision the harder it is to unwind – decisions tend to build on each other. Be constantly looking for those things that don’t fit the bigger picture and go back and adjust those decisions early.

We are responsible for the architecture of our own lives and we can’t blame anyone else if the finished product doesn’t meet our own standards. Whether you want a straight-forward and simple home, or an extravagent artistic masterpiece it is up to you to establish the vision, build the frame, and be true to your design choices so that at the end of your days you can look back and celebrate the finished product.

About Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.

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