August 2, 2016

Product Architecture

When talking about design at Kiva the first thing I show people is our product architecture, which is a high level illustration of the system. I was introduced to the concept after reading a post by Paul Adams, VP of Product at Intercom, who stresses that product design is about a mission, a vision, and an architecture.

From broad ideation to pixel level detail, designers should always be thinking about their company’s mission, vision and product architecture. Everything they do should flow through this funnel.

This is a powerful lens to view a product and one that inspired me to map Kiva’s product architecture. The central element of Kiva’s product architecture is the cycle of lending and relending – which we at Kiva believe is a powerful tool, letting people exponentially increase impact (compared to traditional one-time charitable donations), in an effort to alleviate poverty. With the cycle playing the key role, other systems can then be seen as facilitating growth. For example, campaign pages, free trials and Kiva Cards serve as on ramps to the cycle; while internal tools such as Viva (Kiva’s review and translation system) and the borrower application – drive borrowers into the cycle.

Cycle of lending is at the center of Kiva’s product architecture

I’ve become a big fan of mapping a product’s architecture, as I believe it helps designers, product managers and engineers keep the organization’s larger mission in mind while working on a more micro level. When I introduced the concept at Kiva I found it helpful to frame the product architecture in the following ways.

What Is a Product Architecture?

  • A product architecture illustrates the components of the product and how they relate to one another.
  • In it you’ll find the structure of the site: the building blocks.
  • It shows the objects in the system and their relative importance to the system

What it Is Not:

  • A product architecture is not a site map. It does not detail every page, lightbox or user flow.
  • It does not illustrate interactions or user experiences.

How Can We Use it?

  • A product architecture articulates a vision for the product.
  • It provides a visual map for product managers, designers and engineers, helping them understand the importance of existing features and systems and how they connect.
  • Establishes a hierarchy of each system’s importance.
  • New features can be weighed against the existing architecture to ensure a proper fit and any development undertaken is in proportion to a system’s importance.
  • Helps engineering teams understand the macro systems and the connections between objects in order to better develop engineering architectures.

Hopefully this is a helpful introduction to a product architecture and the value it can provide. If you’re using similar concepts or have questions, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.