5 Tips to Become Fluent in the Language of API Design

Jason Harmon CTO
by Jason Harmon CTO on June 29, 2023 4 min read

As programmers and global travelers, we understand the importance of being well-versed in multiple languages. However, there’s one language that holds a special place in our hearts here at Stoplight: the language of API Design.

It’s a skill that requires a delicate balance of consistency, developer experience, and stakeholder involvement. In our quest for knowledge, we came across the enlightening API Design Matters Substack by David Biesack, a renowned expert in the field. We couldn’t resist inviting him to our API Intersection podcast to share his invaluable insights on all things design-related.

As the Chief API Officer at Apiture, David focuses on API design and utilizes OpenAPI. Let’s look at some of the benefits of OpenAPI for documenting and designing APIs and the importance of consistency in API design.

Tip #1: Creating a Ubiquitous Language

In the realm of API design, establishing a ubiquitous language is key. By developing a shared glossary of terms that bridges the gap between domain experts and the technical team, you lay the foundation for a successful project.

This common understanding ensures that the API design accurately represents the business requirements. As David suggests, you can achieve expressiveness even with constraints, leading to a more consistent view of your APIs.

Tip #2: Inviting All Stakeholders to the Table

Adopting a design-first approach is vital for API design success. It goes beyond the technical team and involves all relevant stakeholders, including product managers, business counterparts, and even marketing teammates occasionally. This idea (we coined as design-first), is instrumental in getting API design right.

Those fluent in the art of API design understand that all relevant stakeholders should be there from the get-go of the API creation and included in the design review process. That way, you’ll foster a collaborative environment that produces well-rounded and impactful API designs by including diverse perspectives from the beginning. More on design-first strategy here.

Tip #3: Embracing Consistency at All Costs

Consistency and standardization are pillars of effective API design. Establishing governance and guiding principles ensures that APIs are not treated as isolated entities but as part of a holistic organizational culture (helpful tools like API style guides can help streamline this process).

“To ensure consistency, governance, and guiding principles are important in API design. It’s not just about creating individual APIs; it’s about creating a culture that values API design and promotes consistency across the organization,” shares David. David emphasizes that consistency becomes more challenging as organizations grow, but its importance should never be compromised.

Tip #4: Finding the Right Tools and Techniques

Discovering the right tools and techniques can significantly enhance your API design process. Numerous options are available, from spreadsheets and wikis to specialized tools like Jira, Confluence, or Stoplight. It’s crucial to align the devices with your team’s size, budget, and priorities. While David’s team prefers Confluence for collaboration, remember there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

Tip #5: Embracing the DRY Principle

“Don’t Repeat Yourself” is a mantra that also resonates with API design. Reusing successful components and models promotes efficiency and consistency across your API ecosystem. This approach can significantly reduce the time and effort required to create and maintain API projects.

With a tool like Stoplight’s Component Libraries, you can also update the reusable models in one place, and the changes are immediately available in all the projects that consume the model.

Bonus Tip: Adding the Language of (Developer) Love

“We need to solve real problems for developers and make APIs easy to use,” shares David. In addition to mastering the language of API design, prioritizing developer experience is crucial.

Understanding and solving pain points for developers while making APIs easy to develop AND consume is essential. Actively seeking developer feedback and incorporating it into your API iterations will lead to a successful API program. Plus, if you’ve followed all of the above tips, you’re already on the right track to fluency in developer experience.

Becoming fluent in the language of APIs requires clear communication, collaboration, and the use of effective tools. By following the principles shared by David Biesack and embracing a design-centric approach, you can elevate your API design skills to new heights. We extend our gratitude to David for joining us on the show, and I encourage you to explore more insights from industry leaders on our API Intersection podcast episodes.

So, whether you’re a programmer or a global traveler, embark on this language-learning journey and unlock the power of API design. Happy designing!

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