For tangible products like sportswear, kitchen appliances, or headphones, it’s easy for users to see how good design features make a difference. However, for a software product like an application programming interface, or API, good design elements are invisible to the user. That may make it hard to explain, in layman’s terms, what API design is like and what it’s meant to achieve. But APIs have this in common with tangible consumer products: if all the parts come together successfully, they’re of great advantage to whoever uses them.
To craft a functional API product for market release, an API team embarks on a process called API design. The team does everything in its power to develop an API with the following qualities:
- Easy for fellow developers to work on
- Stable enough to integrate into the client’s system
- A breeze for customers to use when they engage in the API client’s services
API design involves more than writing syntax. There are two key elements that the API team must pay attention to: how the API’s resources are structured, and how those resources are documented. To that end, API developers worth their salt take some extra steps to achieve successful API design. These steps include using an OpenAPI design guide, implementing OpenAPI Specification for web services, and signing up to use a full-featured API design toolkit.
Below is a treatise on API design, its value to industry in the digital age, and the basic design principles for a good API. Whether you’re a newbie to the field of APIs or you’re a developer looking to further your craft, you’ll learn something new in this article.
API Design in the Digital Age
We are now in the digital age where more people than ever are online. Customers look to apps to guide them through their day-to-day activities, such as media consumption, ecommerce shopping, and banking. APIs, which allow two applications to communicate with each other to complete a specific function, are an important part of this infrastructure. Everyday requests pertaining to sharing media online, buying products, logging into virtual accounts, and the like—all these rely on APIs.
What a customer needs is the ability to do those actions in the most straightforward way possible. And for that to happen, API developers have to be very thoughtful about the API’s overall design.
The Things That Matter in API Design
Luckily, for the most part, API professionals don’t operate in the dark. There are certain API design principles that are upheld in the industry and that serve as a standard for good API work. Developers can see these as a point of reference when they’re making a product of their own. The following items contain the principles of API design in a nutshell.
Ease of Use
First off, an API must be designed for maximum ease of use. The goal is to make an interface that can be used by a customer like it’s second nature. At the same time, it shouldn’t be hard for incoming developers to understand what the API is meant to do. That helps them decide which resources to work with so that the API can carry out that function.
The API must also be made with its future maintenance in mind. Developers, in particular, will be thankful for API products that are well-designed. That means that it won’t be difficult to predict which resources should be updated, and when.
Thoroughness of Documentation
A key part of API design is API documentation, or the compiling of all the requests, responses, endpoints, methods, and parameters that the API contains. If the resources are organized in a clean, appealing, and engaging manner, it’ll be a joy for doc readers to get to know the API.
It’s also good to design the API for positive developer experience, or DX. If the API is easy to interact with and to test, developers may be twice as productive with the API’s design. That passion and familiarity may very well show in the final API product.
Another key factor in API design is the end product’s extendibility. The API shouldn’t be designed for use only in the present. It should have the potential to evolve alongside other services as time goes on. The API team should work on a scalable, resilient API that can withstand future challenges.
Ease of Implementation
The last factor, for sure an important one, is how prepared the API is for its eventual implementation. The product should be ready for integration into the client system with minimal disturbances expected. In all cases, good API design results in smoother, steadier implementation. So this should be a priority for the API team.
What Great API Design Can Achieve
The end result of a well-designed API is increased business value for the client. Satisfied customers will return to the service thanks to the API. As a consequence, the client company will enjoy their trust and their continued patronage. In summary, everyone involved must take API design seriously. There are a lot of opportunities to do so, and a lot of potential to spark innovation in the API world.