January 11, 2021

API design considerations for rapidly scaling organisations

Shane Bird

Bigger is not always better. Add more resources to a company, and its revenue may increase. That’s growth, and it’s good. But increase a company’s revenue without adding significantly more resources? That’s scale, and it’s even better.

We’ve heard the term “scalability” thrown around a lot in tech companies. It’s more than a 2020 buzzword. As applications grow exponentially larger and more complex, API providers need to adapt their interfaces. Why? Simple. To meet the increased user-focused demand. They need to do this while managing configuration though.


As an organisation scales, the design of their API should be equipped to handle the increased traffic and satisfy user’s requests. It’s important that the software is programmed to process one million requests with the same efficiency as one hundred requests. Its infrastructure should also be built with scalability in mind, allowing different software engineers and teams the ability to work alongside each other in a harmonious fashion. But, how?

It’s all in the design.

Any software developer knows how easily projects can devolve into unstructured, tangled webs. That’s why internal consistency is key; interfaces are being designed for other programmers to build on. Plus, programmers are usually pretty tech-savvy, so any flaws will be pointed out.

Predicting every future use and application of their service is impossible for API providers, especially once the company begins to scale. Designing an API that’s extensible will come in handy later. Why? Because it’s adaptable.

This will make it easy for multiple extensions and other services are able to tie into the system later on. And when exponential growth occurs, its functionality remains unrestricted. Less errors, more development, and easy maintenance. Great.

Don’t model.

The payments team should manage the payments API. Right? Wrong. The team with the right skill sets should. Don’t model your API based on your organizational design. Model your API based on an organizational structure that supports the business needs of the company, like longevity.

Developers may come and go, but demand is here to stay. So, design your API with the user in mind. Instead of asking questions like, “What does this service need to do?” Ask questions like, “How can users apply this API to do what they need?” And engineer accordingly. Future-proof? Check. User-focused? Check.

Sounds easy enough.

But how do you figure out the way users intend to apply your API? You ask them. A client advocate will serve as the point of contact for customers leveraging your API. Think “liaison.” They know the product, receive feedback, and work to better the consumer experience. End users are heard. Customers are happy. And all the different teams are able to work in close collaboration towards a clear goal. Finally. As companies scale, creating a space dedicated solely to the needs of clients is a no-brainer.

Versions?

What’s that? You’re building an API. If it’s going to scale, it needs to be designed for longevity. There should be no version one, but only one version. Extensions? Sure. Updates? Amazing. But fundamental changes are a no-go. Build your first version as if it’s your last. It’s going to stay (more or less) the same.

User journeys and workflows.

Users don’t want to go through several consecutive API calls to finish one task. Don’t make them. Nobody likes a complicated journey. Instead, focus on your user. What do their journeys look like when they’re accomplishing tasks? How can each one be made easier? In this case, less is more. Many companies launch new endpoints like it’s a race. Maybe it is. But slow and steady always wins. Remember; impact over activity.

Who goes where, and when?

Different components of the API need to be scaled differently. Why? Because each component has different business needs. Get ahead by determining which parts of the API would serve as horizontal components and which parts as vertical. Then, assign the appropriate teams to the different components. Easy.

The horizontal teams manage the core components of the API. This means that the different products offered by the API are dealt with rapidly by vertical teams, leaving the architectural and system level concerns for the horizontal teams to handle at their own pace. Delegating the workload this way allows for a customer-first approach to development. Each team is free to work independently on their product and really focus on delivering results.

A great problem to have.

It’s one thing to start a business and another thing to scale it. The fact that a company’s API needs scaling is a victory. Don’t celebrate too early though. Without careful consideration and a calculated manner, design flaws that could cause long-term problems may arise. Figure out the best way to pursue the opportunity, then go for it.

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