by Leon Rosenshein

Architecture vs. Engineering

Architecture must include engineering considerations, so that the design will be economically feasible; but the emphasis in architecture is upon the needs of the user, whereas in engineering the emphasis is upon the needs of the fabricator

-- Fred Brooks

How’s that for nuanced? Architecture emphasizes the user, engineering emphasizes the fabricator. Seems reasonable. Of course sometimes the “user” of the component is the next fabricator down the line. Or is the “user” the user of the system? They’ll certainly have different needs. And what about the person doing the maintenance/repair? Is that person a user? Their needs are certainly different. So what do you focus on? In true architect’s fashion, it depends.

Consider the late 70’s Pontiac Sunbird and it’s siblings. They sold cheap. They got you from point A to point B relatively economically. They were easy/cheap to manufacture. Designed to meet the users needs. Until you need to do a tune up. Which was typically once a year (every 12-15 thousand miles). It’s not that the parts were expensive, or hard to come by. But it was a little hard to change the spark plugs. In fact, to change the back spark plugs you needed to at least move the engine, if not remove it. Which upset the mechanic and the owner when they saw the bill for a tune up.

To me the mechanic is the user of the system. And this is a case where the system architecture missed the mark. Of course, the folks who designed the system weren’t the ones who needed to do the repairs, so they weren’t properly incentivized.

In our world, we’re the designers, builders, and mechanics. And in some (many?) cases the user as well. So we should be incentivized to make our systems not just easy to build, but easy to maintain and use as well. They should not only be easy to repair, but they should tell us when things are starting to go wrong. When we have time to fix them, Not right after the wheels fall off and it’s a big job to fix it.

So, in true architect’s fashion, it depends. It’s a balance. A balance of builders, users, and maintainers.