Translating Architectural Design Quality from the Physical Domain to Information Systems

By Leslie J. Waguespack, David J. Yates and William T. Schiano.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The properties that explain great physical architecture also explain great information systems architecture. Christopher Alexander has identified fifteen elements of design, called center properties, that when expressed through physical architecture elicit the experience of beautiful and high-quality design. George Lakoff’s theories of human cognition and language substantiate the credibility and importance of Alexander’s center properties and suggest that the language used to describe these properties for physical architecture can be translated to other domains. Using Lakoff’s theories, we provide evidence that Alexander’s center properties reflect fundamental characteristics of order in design and support our evidence by translating the properties from the domain of physical architecture to the domain of information systems. We validate our design characteristics for information systems by analyzing them side-by-side with best practices in system architecture and design as exemplified by the Apache web server. We further show that Fred Brooks’ analysis of essence vs. accident in software design complements the characteristics developed in this research. Taken together, Brooks’ dichotomy and our research help in developing the requirements against which to judge the beauty and quality of information system design. Finally, we explore how identifying essence and accidents can be applied to physical architecture to expand the understanding of design beauty and quality in that domain.

Keywords: Physical Architecture, Information Systems Architecture, System Design, Software Design, Apache Web Server

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp.179-194. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 755.924KB).

Dr. Leslie J. Waguespack

Professor, Department of Computer Information Systems, Bentley University, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA

Dr. Waguespack earned a bachelors, masters and doctoral degree in computer science from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette with research in computer architecture. As an officer in the United State Air Force he served as systems architect at the Manpower and Personnel Center designing and building decision support and worldwide information retrieval applications. He taught for five years in the computer science department of Louisiana State University focusing on systems and software engineering. As professor of computer informations systems he teaches systems analysis, data management, software project management and object oriented systems engineering. His research interests include object oriented modeling and systems engineering and the relationship between design quality in physical architecture and that of information systems.

Dr. David J. Yates

Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Information Systems, Bentley University, Waltham, MA, USA

David Yates is an Assistant Professor of Computer Information Systems at Bentley University. David’s research areas include computer networking, data communications, sensor networks, embedded systems, operating systems, and computer architecture. Before joining Bentley, David held research and academic positions at the University of Massachusetts and Boston University. In the corporate arena, he was a co-founder and vice president of software development at InfoLibria – a startup that grew to become a leading provider of hardware and software for building content distribution and delivery networks before it was acquired. He holds several U.S. patents for processes and systems related to computer networking, content management, and mobile computing. He holds a PhD and MSc from the University of Massachusetts and a BSc from Tufts University.

Dr. William T. Schiano

Associate Professor, Department of Computer Information Systems, Bentley University, Waltham, MA, USA

Bill Schiano is Associate Professor of Computer Information Systems at Bentley University and Director of the Bentley MS in Information Technology program. During 2000, Bill served as President of thoughtbubble productions, a New York based new media company founded in 1995, helping secure an investment from The Formula Group in November 2000. Before joining thoughtbubble, Bill was a Research Affiliate at CSC Index Research and Advisory Services. Bill has conducted extensive research and published several articles and case studies on the role of technology in retail and service industries. His current research focuses on the role and management of information systems within organizations faced with outsourcing and financial challenges. Bill’s consulting centers around the strategic use of information technology and the management of information systems departments and personnel. Dr. Schiano has an AB in Economics from Williams College and Doctorate in Information Systems from Harvard Business School.

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