Architect vs. Designer

I would like to discuss two confused IT roles: the architect and the designer. Sometimes, they are used interchangeably, but they are essentially different for infrastructure and applications. Let’s be a little funny and show the Architect as an archetypal role of a person who incarnates principles and ideas from the platonic world to our mortal world. Here is an unorthodox IT representation of the masonic “pyramid of cosmic order”.

architect-pyramid

The Architect works with principles. He/she is not necessarily aware of technologies and tools, but rather defines the logic and how information will flow. He/she sets the rules and understands the purpose of the system, and thus how the system lives together with other systems in a greater ecosystem. The architect’s work is larger than the specific tools and configurations, so the system architecture could well adapt to include new tools in the future.

The Designer works with technologies and frameworks, thus has to deal with technical limitations, restrictions. He/she is concerned about specific tools and components, and how the system components will be used within their capabilities and in compatibility with each other. He/she is also responsible of producing the system documentation (blueprints).

The Builders have good knowledge on tools and working methods. They build the system by connecting the components and applying the configuration. They get their hands dirty and may follow multiple try-fail-retry iterations. They give life to the system. Once they put it in operation and test it, they hand it over to the operators with the proper operational documentation.

The Operators are the carers. They know how to run the system and keep it away from danger. They troubleshoot, diagnose and fix it again and again. They maintain and replace components. They don’t necessarily know how exactly the system works, how the different components communicate with each other and why the system exists (purpose).

architect-incarnation
The ladder of system incarnation

An architect is somebody who works with logic, ideas and principles. His work may be interdisciplinary, and somehow independent to IT. The same architectural principles used in an IT system could be implemented to a mechanical model, and the same principles from flow dynamics could be brought to information flow between IT systems.

There are many designers out there in IT, in infrastructure or software, but there are fewer architects. Designers usually evolve from builders and operators after accumulating good experience from multiple technologies. The architect on the other side is a thinker, usually a challenger and w contributor to future technologies; a small “philosopher” as Raymond Llull would put it.

“Every philosopher has the ability to be a good mechanic.” – Raymon Llull, 13th Century

So, try to distinguish between these roles.

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