Product Architecture is the process of creating a schematic for a product and its various functions. Rather than representing the product as a prototype, the product is broken down into its base components and expressed geometrically. This makes redundancies more apparent and better expresses the relationships between different features.
This concept may sound more complicated than it is. But in reality, creating a product architecture is a fairly simple exercise. The idea is to map the product's functions and features, rather than the product's physical design. For instance, you might draw a rectangle labeled "Product", when your product is really a tricycle.
Following this example, you may have bubbles coming off of your "Product" rectangle labeled "Handlebars" or "Wheels". Connecting to those bubbles may be other bubbles and squares labeled "Brakes" and "Shifters".
Mapping a product out in this way forces you to pay closer attention to its functional design, resulting in:
Greater visibility of vestige or unnecessary design choices
Clarity surrounding overlapping features — are there two things, trying to achieve the same goal?
And an increased commitment to the product’s functional performance (divorced from its aesthetic design).
Product architecture generally comes in two varieties.
The first is modular. Modular product architecture focuses on the relationships between the various features of a product. These functions are described briefly, while the ways that they interact are described in depth.
The second type of product architecture is integral. Integral architecture is just the opposite: it focuses on the function, purpose, and inner workings of each feature, with brief notes covering the relationships between them.
So which do you choose:
Integral design is a great way to cut the costs associated with a product and to increase its overall performance.
Modular design, on the other hand, helps create a smoother, more refined product. It makes dependencies more apparent, allowing you to create a product that has a longer lifespan, is less prone to errors, and needs fewer updates.
Creating a product architecture can be completed in four steps.
First, you create the schematic. You can use any schematic template you like (Kafka schemas are fairly popular in product architecture). Just be sure to choose a schema that allows you to clearly express the features contained within your product.
Next, you'll want to group the features and elements of your product's schematic. How you choose to group them will vary depending on the type of product you’re designing. However, a key theme should be not only how much in common the items in groups have, but also how much they interact with one another.
After that, you'll want to lay out all of these elements in a geometric formation, representing the functions, flows, and patterns within your product. Remember that this is a map of sorts, so the paths between elements should define the structure.
And that brings us to the final and fourth step: to draw lines between the different elements to show if and how they interact with one another. In many ways, this is the most important step, as it's where the product architecture comes completely into focus.