Hackernoon logoHuman Centred API Design: What Is It? by@KSRSK

Human Centred API Design: What Is It?


As a developer, I make APIs for another system to consume so that multiple systems can talk to each other. Where is this design thingy coming from? Isn't design for UI? How is this applicable when building APIs? And what would be the benefits? I assume these would be some of the questions when looking at the title of this post.

APIs have existed for a long time (APIhound estimates 50,000 public web APIs in existence). But, it all started taking an energetic turn in recent years and Forbes even called 2017 as the year of API economy. More than 35% of leading organizations generated more than 25% of their revenues from API monetization in 2019 (based on a report from Mulesoft where they surveyed more than 800 organizations across different parts of the world).

Also, the report indicated that 43% of organizations use more than 1000 applications for their routine operations in the business. The pace and efficacy of integration between these systems are still riddles waiting to be solved. Let that sink in for a while.

In layman's terms, APIs are like lego pieces. They can be put together into a unique form as picturized in the user's mind.

If a developer is trying to make use of our APIs, the onus is on us to make it an enjoyable experience. For APIs, the personas in the equation are not limited to developers alone. Research shows that non-developers are increasingly using APIs to experiment for their pet projects. How do we ensure that all of them get that lego blocks feeling? Let's talk about a few important factors for a great AX (API Experience):


  • Easy to follow steps, error responses, and defaults
  • Modular data structures
  • Competence

    • Easy problem diagnosis
    • Automation to reduce user actions

    Memorability (Recognition over recall)

    • Consistent naming conventions
    • Minimal concepts for the workflows


    • Concepts based on the problem domain and not the implementation so that they match the user's mental model
    • Resources/ Collections/ Representation/ Actions and Responses based on canonical aspects


    • Constraints and progressive feedback
    • Clear documentation


    • Seamless onboarding experience
    • Tolerance

    More and more enterprises are working on digital transformation and migrating to the cloud. As a result, APIs become pathways for quickly realizing the expected monetary potential. As they say, data is the new oil.

    For systems to exchange data and unleash its power, APIs play a vital role.

    Even when organizations push the API first strategy more aggressively, there is a higher emphasis on the development rather than the design of the APIs. But in the API economy, it is much more important to pay more attention to the design factor as well. Designing inclusively for all humans (developers as well non-developers) and reducing cognitive load will help organizations reap the benefits better.



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