Digital Architecture and Design

Following the recent Design Authority industry day, a number of comments received from Jersey’s digital industry through Slack and other mediums related to architecture and design. The question arising from these comments can be summarised as ‘What is architecture and how is this different from design?’

The purpose of this blog is to clarify the way we refer to these in the Design Authority.

The terms architecture and design are often used interchangeably, which can result in confusion and misunderstanding. This is compounded when as an industry we also talk in terms like logical and physical architectures amongst others.

In general, and at a high-level:

  • Architecture is closely linked to strategy, structure and purpose. It sets context. It deals in the “what” and the “how”
  • Design is more closely linked to implementation and practice and is more concrete. It deals in the “with what”
  • Architecture and Design are closely related, and together they provide more value than they can individually

Within these parameters, I will consider design as being equivalent to physical architecture. Similarly, I will talk about architecture as being equivalent to logical architecture.


There are many definitions of both architecture and design, but I think the best come from some of the recognised industry bodies.

One definition of architecture (from TOGAF) is: “The structure of components, their inter-relationships, and the principles and guidelines governing their design and evolution over time.”

One definition of design (from the IEEE) is: “The process of refining and expanding the preliminary design of a system or component to the extent that the design is sufficiently complete to be implemented; the result of the process.”

Highlighting these particular definitions shows how architecture is used to govern design, and that design is built within the context of the architecture. Architecture is sometimes considered a preliminary design.

What’s the difference?

Digital architecture

It is common to think of architecture and design in terms of perspective. Design looks ‘downward’ to the actual, focussing on the things which will be implemented. Architecture looks ‘upward and across’, focussing on a model of components within the architecture and what happens between them, together with the principles and standards which govern their use.

This can be illustrated by using the analogy of a map:

  • Architecture provides the map; you define a point of origin A and a destination B. The map will give guidance to help you get from A to B, but recognises there are many different routes to get you from A to B.
  • Design is more granular and likened to the set of instructions which will provide a specific route to get you from A to B.
  • A map on its own (Architecture) is good to have, but does not provide enough detail to implement a solution. A set of instructions (Design) is useless without understanding your point of origin A and destination B or your map.

Both architecture and design are essential for a digital project:

  • Architecture without design tends to be stuck in an ‘ivory tower’ world, and can often be idealised. A good architect will ask thought-provoking questions that challenge the current vision and strategy with the aim of creating of an overarching context for solutions to operate in.
  • Design without architecture tends to provide point-solutions, often developed for current techniques and technologies and with a single task in mind. These designs can be difficult to integrate or reuse. A good designer will ask thought-provoking questions to resolve specifics of a problem within existing boundaries.

Architecture and design are part of the same development process. Design generally comes after the architecture phase, and is closer to implementation. Many architects and designers will do both architecture and design work. Only when architecture and design are both used together will we have reusable and maintainable solutions.

What the Design Authority produces

The Design Authority is building an architecture for the States of Jersey, formed of the models, principles, standards, and guidance that I have referred to above. As the States of Jersey is a true enterprise consisting of multiple organisations (the departments), this architecture covers the enterprise; it is an Enterprise Architecture. This can be broken down into a set of more focussed areas, or viewpoints, each concentrating on a particular aspect of the overall architecture.

For example, integration forms a key part of the overall enterprise architecture for the States of Jersey and an integration platform is a common capability that will be used across government. We will soon be publishing our architectural principles for integration, along with our guidance on the use of APIs. This will set the parameters by which the design of a solution using the integration platform will need to operate within.

The production of designs falls to project teams, which will often include technology suppliers.

Why are we called a Design Authority and not an Architecture Authority?

Design Authority composition

As well as producing the architecture we have a role to play in governance; in assuring that projects are being designed in the right way. When assuring and authorising each design, we do this by ensuring it fits within the architecture, and follows the principles and standards which form a part of this framework.

There are many good architects and designers out there. By providing this level of assurance and challenge to their designs we can ensure that we are providing building blocks for the future of the States , and not a set of standalone functions.

Good design is about doing things in the right way.

Good architecture is about doing the right things.

We need both to ensure we are doing the right things in the right way.

What’s next

In my next blog I intend to explore the different domain architectures (business, application, data, technology and security), and how they build towards the higher-level architecture (enterprise architecture).

I welcome comments and feedback on this post and hope it has been helpful.

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