API design is the process of designing an interface that other programmers will use to access the functionality provided by a software module. The API design process is a crucial step in the software development life cycle. It is essential to get this right, as it will be the basis for all future development.
The software architect often performs the API design process, who will understand the overall system architecture and how the different modules fit together. The software architect will also be aware of any limitations in the design that may affect future development.
Well-designed APIs make it straightforward to integrate them with a wide range of other applications. Consuming poorly designed APIs, on the other hand, is vexing.
This article will talk about how to design a great API program and optimize the consumer experience.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is API Design?
- 2 Why is a Great API Design important?
- 3 Common API Design Patterns
- 4 7 Steps to Designing a Great API Program
- 5 API Design Principles
- 6 3 Best Practices for Great API Design
- 7 Using the Rakuten RapidAPI Enterprise Hub
What is API Design?
API design refers to the pattern or architectural format used to make an API available to the consumers (or developers). It aims to build an effective interface that enables API consumers to take advantage of the exposed functionalities and easily integrate them.
API design encompasses the process of efficiently planning, creating, and maintaining an API initiative, ensuring it realizes the intended objectives.
Design is a crucial factor when building any product, and your API is no exception. If you fail to strategize and put time and effort into its development, your API may be difficult to use, leading to reduced adoption and, overall, lower chances of success.
Getting the design right is vital because it is what communicates how your APIs will be consumed.
An API is primarily an interface for people to interact with
Why is a Great API Design important?
Here are three reasons why having a great API design matters to your enterprise.
1. Enhances developer experience
Developer experience (DX) is essential to the success of your API program. If you do not design your API well, developers will not have a fulfilling experience during integration.
If you check the illustration of the API value chain below, you’ll notice that the developer is the linchpin of the entire enterprise’s API strategy.
Developers interpret the features that the APIs provide and use them to create applications for end-users. Therefore, you should aim to optimize their success and productivity with your API products.
If your exposed technology is functional, stable, clear, and easy to use, it’ll provide developers with rich experience.
If it’s difficult to understand, poorly structured, or dysfunctional, application developers may not have a frictionless experience working with it.
With a good API design, developers will be happier, use your technology more, and recommend it more. It’s what will make the lives of your API consumers easier.
2. Enables better documentation
APIs can only be as good as their provided documentation. Without a comprehensive reference document that explains how to use the API, its integration can be complicated, resulting in decreased adoption of the exposed services and products.
With an effective API design approach, the documentation process can be faster and less prone to errors.
An elaborate initial design framework will allow you to understand the scope and purpose of your documentation. This way, deciding on the layout, structure, and language most suited for your API documentation will be easier.
3. Supports incremental development
Creating a robust API program is a journey, not a destination.
As you improve your products and services, or get feedback from users, so should you add more features to your API.
If you have a well-explained design framework, making improvements to your API will be easier. You’ll know which resources need to be updated, obsolete endpoints that need to be deprecated, or descriptions that need to be edited.
As an API provider, a clear design will let you avoid repeating work, prevent chaos and confusion, and ensure incremental development is implemented effectively.
Common API Design Patterns
So, how would you design an API?
To design an API, you can follow any of the following three main architectural styles.
Although they are not mutually exclusive, each design pattern comes with its own twists and turns that are important to note.
1. Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) style
The URI design pattern lets developers make API calls using the standard HTTP methods, such as POST, GET, PUT, and DELETE.
These HTTP operations are often mapped to CRUD (which is an acronym for create, read, update, and delete) functions.
A popular example of its implementation is the REST API architecture, which focuses on a predefined and uniform set of stateless operations that allow users to retrieve and manipulate exposed data.
In REST, APIs use resources to make their functionality available, and each resource has its own URI that can be accessed by sending HTTP requests to the server.
2. Event-Driven Architecture (EDA) style
The EDA design pattern focuses on the generation, identification, and consumption of events and the responses they bring forth. This is different from the traditional request-response driven approach to designing APIs.
In EDA, an event refers to any action that triggers a significant change in the application’s state, such as adding an item to a cart on an online shopping website.
This style aims to create applications that interact with each other asynchronously or integrate with other systems or applications via events.
3. Tunneling style
The tunneling design pattern is an implementation of the old Remote Procedure Call (RPC) protocol. This style can be structured in the JSON data format transported over HTTP (JSON-RPC), XML data format transported over HTTP (XML-RPC), or Protocol Buffers data format over gRPC.
Notably, gRPC, which Google developed, is a modern framework that revamps the classic RPC structure to produce a highly efficient, lean, and fast system. This has made its use popular in microservices applications and IoT (Internet of Things) devices.
Designing great API programs requires the right tools. Rakuten RapidAPI Enterprise Hub comes with powerful API design tools that allow you to build interfaces that developers love.
It’s the API platform you need to deliver successful APIs and realize the goals of your enterprise.
7 Steps to Designing a Great API Program
Regardless of the type of API architectural pattern you choose, these are the seven steps you can follow to design an awesome API product:
Let’s talk about each of the steps.
Step 1: Define your business objectives
Before venturing into the API space, every company should ask the following key question: why do we need an API?
Answering this question is an important milestone in making the right decisions for designing a good API.
You should be clear about the impact the API will have on your wider business strategy from the onset. You need to understand the business needs that the API will address.
After analyzing the potential opportunities that the API program offers, you need to define its business objectives. What tangible and specific outcomes do you want to realize by launching the API?
You should ensure the objectives are measurable because the ability to track the API’s performance is essential for its long-term success.
Your identified objective should be based on the specific use case you intend to pursue.
For example, some popular business objectives that drive enterprises to establish API programs include saving costs, enhancing connectivity and collaboration, improving customer experience, increasing revenues, and more.
You may click here to read more about the business benefits of launching APIs.
Step 2: Identify your API business model
After defining the API objectives, the next step is to determine the suitable API business model.
Your chosen model will establish how API consumers will interact with your exposed program, and how you’ll generate revenues or other benefits from it.
Here are two reasons why identifying the appropriate business model is vital for designing great API products:
- It assists in bringing to the fore the value of the API program to the enterprise. This way, roles and responsibilities can be established for the successful management of the API. Without such commitments, sufficient resources may not be allocated for running an effective API product.
- It assists in defining the functionality of the API program. This is essential for meeting the needs of third parties and generating value from the API.
You can create a business model that charges developers (or pay them through revenue sharing methods) for consuming your APIs.
Here are the four main business models you can pursue with your API program:
- Consumer Pays
- Consumer Gets Paid
- Indirect monetization
You may click here to read more about the models.
Step 3: Make your design choices
After choosing the type of API you want to expose and establishing the objectives and business models for it, the next step is to start its design.
At this stage, you need to assess how you’ll design the API to realize the outlined goals.
These are some questions you need to ask:
- Which architectural design style should we follow? For example, should we go for GraphQL or REST?
- Who should we put in the team?
- How will we ensure security?
- What makes a good API design?
- Could we use an open-source framework?
- Which data formats will we provide?
- How will we manage versioning?
- How will we track performance against the set business objectives?
Answering such questions will assist you in making the right design decisions for releasing your API.
Getting the choice of design right before creating an API is critical for its success. If you do not make the right decisions at the design phase, it may lead to costly mistakes later in the development process.
If an issue is identified at a later stage, reworking both the API design and its implementation may be time-consuming and expensive.
We’ll talk about more principles and best practices for nailing down the right design later in this article.
Step 4: Create and deploy your API
After making your design decisions, it’s now time to implement them through creating and deploying your API.
You’ll need to create the API and connect it to the backend applications or services that will power it.
Importantly, you’ll need to establish the appropriate governance structure to manage access and security.
Before deploying an API, you’ll need to set out policies that will govern its consumption.
With these policies, you can control the type of users who can access the API, apply authentication and authorization measures, manage the number of API requests users can make, and more.
You may click here to read more about how to enforce API governance best practices.
Furthermore, you’ll need to set out the right security measures to ensure that the exposed functionalities, which are at the heart of the business itself, are protected from unauthorized access.
You may click here to read more about how to enforce the security of your APIs.
Step 5: Drive adoption of your API
After designing and developing an API, the next step is to drive its adoption—whether it’ll be available internally or exposed to third-party developers.
Getting the word out is crucial for the API’s success. For example, you can publish it on a platform like the Rakuten RapidAPI API marketplace and allow developers to find and connect to it easily.
To allow developers to use your API flawlessly, and increase its adoption, you need to include the following elements:
- A getting started section that lets developers get up and running with the API as soon as possible.
- A documentation page that lets developers learn about the API’s functionalities.
- Code samples that illustrate how to integrate with the API. You may also include a code playground that lets developers test drive the API and see how it works in real-time.
- Error codes and responses to let developers debug issues quickly.
- A forum where developers can post their comments and interact with others or get their questions answered.
- An API status page that shows the API’s uptime and response time, as well its reliability and consistency.
Furthermore, to enhance the organic growth of your API initiative, you need to cultivate the community of developers who consume the API.
Since they are the vital ecosystem that drives your API’s success, addressing their needs will continue to enhance the API’s value, and drive substantial mutual benefits.
Step 6: Manage and monitor your API
After moving your APIs to runtime deployment, you need to manage and monitor their performance. This will allow you to identify anomalies and address them quickly, get useful insights for making well-informed business decisions, and improve the developer experience.
Analyzing and monitoring your APIs also lets you get comprehensive visibility into their functioning, ensuring you maintain their peak performance and safeguard them from malicious threats.
You may click here to read more about API analytics and monitoring.
Step 7: Review and improve your API
Reviewing and improving your API is essential for its success. After designing and deploying it, you need to review the API’s objectives and establish whether it’s measuring up.
Is the API generating the amount of revenue anticipated?
Are developers finding it easy adopting the API?
If not, then you need to revisit the kind of functionality you exposed with the API, how it is designed, your business model, or anything that seems amiss.
You may also need to act on the feedback received from developers.
If the initial goal for building the API has changed or your business needs have changed, you may need to adjust your API program to suit the current needs.
API Design Principles
Design should be a first-order priority for releasing excellent APIs
Just like optimizing for the User Experience (UX) is a fundamental consideration in User Interface (UI) development, optimizing for API User Experience (APX) should be prioritized for the success of any API development efforts.
Let’s talk about two important API design principles that will ensure you deliver great user experiences.
a) Design for usability
When it comes to designing APIs, you should keep the needs of the user in mind.
How easy is it for an “average” developer to start using the API?
Let’s take this analogy: most cars have similar parts such as the accelerator, brake pedal, and steering wheel.
You might get that some parts, such as the stereo system or turn signal, differ with each model. If you are an experienced driver, the slight differences may not prevent you from discovering how to drive a rental car.
Likewise, you should aim for this “ready-to-drive” level in API design standards—experienced implementers should not have trouble starting to integrate it.
To ensure superb usability of your API program, you can consider the following factors:
- Flexibility—does the API give developers the freedom to incorporate its features based on their needs and preferences? For example, does it support multiple data formats?
- Simplicity—does the API use simple constructs that are easy to understand and integrate?
- Consistency—do you maintain consistency throughout your API? How will you version your API to avoid throwing users off?
b) Enforce functionality
You should design APIs that are fully functional. Releasing an API just for the sake of it, and without performing sufficient tests, may be a recipe for disaster.
Furthermore, as the API evolves, you should be able to add extra features without compromising the performance of existing client applications.
3 Best Practices for Great API Design
Let’s talk about the following three best practices for designing quality APIs.
a) Expose a valuable service
You should approach API design with an ‘inside-outside’ perspective. This means that you should start by evaluating the valuable internal assets that your enterprise possesses.
If you expose unique and valuable services and functionalities, the API program will be useful to the intended audience.
A good API that exposes a bad service is like lipstick on a pig
b) Use ubiquitous standards
You should go for well-known and widely implemented API design standards. When selecting a style for designing your API, choose the most universally recognized technology solutions, instead of a niche approach.
Using widely accepted tools will minimize the developers’ implementation effort.
There is no reason trying reinventing REST, JSON, SOAP, or any other ubiquitous technology solution.
c) Opt for granularity
You should consider creating granular, reusable APIs. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, you should design APIs at the lowest possible level of granularity.
This allows every exposed service to be simple and enables the API consumers to combine them in ways that better suit their needs and preferences.
The best practice is to design APIs that can be reused and joined together in various ways.
Using the Rakuten RapidAPI Enterprise Hub
The Rakuten RapidAPI Enterprise Hub is a comprehensive API solution that comes with powerful tools for designing and managing internal and external APIs.
It has easy to use and versatile features that support APIs throughout their lifecycle, ensuring you deliver services developers love.
The Enterprise Hub will ensure your APIs are well designed, leading to higher adoption, minimal administration headaches, and increased chances of success.
With the Enterprise Hub, you can craft efficient interfaces that will make your API consumers happy.
You may contact us right now to start using it for designing great APIs.