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How Does Software Design Work?

Software design is where all great applications start. You have ideas and goals. But before you can begin building your application, you need to weave your ideas and goals together into a clear plan for how your app will work.

Many people get excited about creating software and want to start coding as soon as possible. This is completely normal but is often a major mistake that causes a variety of issues in later stages. Taking the time to do software design will allow you to think through your application end-to-end. This will ensure that all the pieces work well together and avoid missing gaps in functionality.

What Is Software Design?

Software design is the process in which you create a blueprint for the software along with a plan for implementation. This can include creating a roadmap for the development process and outlining the necessary features, technologies, tools, integrations, and execution steps to take along the way.

What Is the Primary Goal of the Software Design Process?

There are two main goals during Software Design:

  • Clearly define the application objectives and needed features (i.e., WHAT the software needs to do)
  • Translate those objectives into an actionable solution design (i.e., exactly HOW the software will be implemented) to fulfill the objectives. 

We often describe the Software Design process as creating the blueprint for the solution since 90% of the critical decisions are made in this step that will both guide future development phases and greatly influence the long-term success of your software.

The Creative Process of Software Design

The software creative process tends to be iterative. That means there is a cycle of gathering ideas and end goals, processing the information, proposing a solution, receiving feedback, and refining the design. This cycle may happen once or several times until you arrive at the final design that works for you.

Although software system design is a creative process that can vary from person to person and company to company, there are some common steps along the way.

The common steps for a software design process typically include:

  • Understanding your business and the context of the software
  • Understanding what is driving the need for software
  • Understanding the goals and desired end result that the software will bring
  • Understanding the users, how they will be using the software, their needs, and their limitations
  • Understanding the technology experience and preferences of your company
  • Collaborating on the future solution using a whiteboard and real-time discussions and diagramming
  • Proposing a solution using visual tools such as wireframes, storyboards, mockups, and diagrams.
  • Getting feedback on the solution
  • Collaborating on modifying the proposed solution with whiteboarding and real-time discussions
  • Finalizing the design
  • Getting approval
  • Creating a detailed document of the final design that can guide development

Although there are clear steps to designing great software, the process requires collaboration and feedback.

How To Be Successful in Software Design

As a business owner, subject matter expert, or product owner, you are critical to the software design development process. You generate the ideas and success criteria, and the software design ultimately has to satisfy your organization’s and users’ needs.

To help your team help you, consider your role as someone who:

  • Provides as much information as you can to your design team
  • Listens openly to their recommendations
  • Confirms that the design is meeting the needs of your organization and your users
  • Makes final decisions for the end product

Your design team is there to facilitate the process, give you ideas you wouldn’t have had before, and advise what are good and bad practices in software. Like in all advisor relationships, you are welcome to take their recommendations or not as you work through the creative process of developing software that is right for you.

Why Professional Software Development and Design Is Critical

When you use software, you interact with what is on the outside — the user interface. What happens inside the software, however, is largely invisible.

If you’ve been asking yourself, “What is software design, and why is it important?” you can think of it like a constructed building.

Like a building, an application can be designed and built well or poorly. It can withstand the stress of a heavy load and malicious users, or it can crumble under its own weight. The difference is in how the software was designed and built, and much like the building, it’s difficult to judge how well it was built just from the outside.

Although the analogy between building software and buildings holds true in many ways, there is a key difference. Buildings are required to meet certain standards and be inspected by a certified inspector. The same is not true for software.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a set of required inspections for your application, and there aren’t any software “building codes” you need to follow unless you want to be compliant with varying regulations where your app is used (PCI, SAS70, HIPAA/HITECH, etc.).

Knowing that the inner workings of an application are largely invisible to you, how can you be sure your software is designed and built well?

The first step is to recognize that creating reliable and robust software requires more than sketching out the screens and writing some code. The next step is to find a professional software architect who can help. A software architect or a solutions architect is someone who can help you capture your ideas and translate them into a software solution that your users will love and deliver what your business needs long term.

The Solution Design Process

At SOLTECH, projects begin with Solution Design, which is led by a solution architect with support from other design team members such as user experience architects, application architects, and cloud architects. The solution design team is composed of experienced resources that assist with evaluating your business needs, software ideas, technical objectives, and budget targets. The design process will then translate your vision into a defined and actionable solution that includes technology choices, user experience design, software architecture, implementation plans, and budget forecasts.

Solution design has many components. Here are just a few to help you understand why it is a critical part of bringing any custom business application to life.

1. User Experience

Although the user interface is something you can see and judge for yourself, there is an art to creating a great user experience. Most people understand how to break down a workflow into screens, but user experience goes beyond that. It includes making an interface that is intuitive, easy to use, and allows the user to accomplish their tasks in as few steps as possible.

The goal is to reduce “friction” for the user. The user interface should not get in the way of the user doing what they want to do. Instead, it should make it easier than they thought possible.

2. Technology Selection

There are so many technologies today that can be used to create fantastic software. Whether you choose licensed software or open source, you still want to select the technology that best meets your needs.

Both your business and your software have requirements that will impact the technology selection of your app. The job of a solution architecture team is to ask the right questions and make wise technology decisions so that the technology supports your business both now and long into the future.

3. Non-Functional Requirements

Functional requirements are a list of what your application does – its functionality. An example of a functional requirement is that your application needs to ask new users a series of questions, enroll them, and create their accounts. Functional requirements tend to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

However, non-functional requirements are also very important and often overlooked.

How many users does your system need to support now and in 1 to 3 years? How much data will the system need to process every day or every second? What is the required response time for each page? What integrations does the system need to support? Does the system need to be compliant with regulations? What are the security standards? How is data archival handled?

Non-functional requirements cover the system as a whole and how to keep it healthy and performing robustly, keeping the company’s very important but less tangible goals in mind.

4. System Foundation and Architecture

A modern app is comprised of several layers including data storage, data access, business logic, web services, batch processes, and the user interface. Each of these layers needs to be architectured properly to function together but also to scale up and maintain strong performance when under the load of many users accessing the system at the same time.

How those layers interface with each other while being autonomous is a large part of software design. And best practices are constantly changing.

How software was architected five years ago is not how it is architected today. As an industry, we are constantly growing and learning how to build the most robust and reliable systems while still being quick to market. Modern applications often operate in the cloud, integrate with multiple systems, and may even utilize AI for part of its processing.

A solution architecture team will help you construct your application using the latest proven software design methods. They’ll also know design patterns that increase software efficiency and quality.

6 Items That Are Non-Negotiable When Building Software

Before you start developing your software app, discover what is non-negotiable in building a successful software application. In this guide, we share how to build your application on a solid foundation from over twenty-five years of our own personal experience.

You can grab a copy of the guide below and share it with your team!


What Is Architecture Design in Software Development?

Architecture design is essentially how the different parts of a system are structured and the way they interact with each other. You can think of it as the blueprint for a software application.

What Are Design Patterns in Software Development?

A design pattern is a small piece of code that acts as a solution to a common problem. This “pattern” can be reused in different parts of the code to help quicken and strengthen the design process.

What Is the Primary Goal of the Software Design Process?

The main purpose of the software design process is to produce a well-structured and efficient system that meets the needs of the end users. Consider scalability, maintainability, and user experience. The ultimate goal is to generate a high-quality platform that satisfies the company and its consumers. 

6 Non-Negotiable Items When Building Software

Thayer Tate

Chief Technology Officer

Thayer TateThayer is the Chief Technology Officer at SOLTECH, bringing over 20 years of experience in technology and consulting to his role. Throughout his career, Thayer has focused on successfully implementing and delivering projects of all sizes. He began his journey in the technology industry with renowned consulting firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers and IBM, where he gained valuable insights into handling complex challenges faced by large enterprises and developed detailed implementation methodologies.

Thayer’s expertise expanded as he obtained his Project Management Professional (PMP) certification and joined SOLTECH, an Atlanta-based technology firm specializing in custom software development, Technology Consulting and IT staffing. During his tenure at SOLTECH, Thayer honed his skills by managing the design and development of numerous projects, eventually assuming executive responsibility for leading the technical direction of SOLTECH’s software solutions.

As a thought leader and industry expert, Thayer writes articles on technology strategy and planning, software development, project implementation, and technology integration. Thayer’s aim is to empower readers with practical insights and actionable advice based on his extensive experience.

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