Why API Design Matters, Where it Fits, & How to Get Started

Humanity’s greatest works of art started with a design-first approach. Your APIs are no different. Learn how to infuse the design-first mentality throughout the totality of your full API management lifecycle. Let’s walk through the problem, why it matters, what resources you have available, and how you can set your API program up for your success. See more return on your API program; let’s design first and develop better.

API Design in the Lifecycle

What is API Design

In a software development lifecycle where APIs are an afterthought, the results are vulnerability, inconsistency, time, and lack of adoption.

The Problem
The Solution
Left to right flow chart of problematic approach to APIs, where they are one isolated part of the softawre developement lifecycle.
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Connect APIs to a Product Mindset

APIs are a Product

a cycle of the evolution of apis, with blue and orange arrows flowing in a neverending cycle of new api discovery and resulting deprecation of business needs

APIs are a product and should be treated as such. In an API design-first development process, API architects begin with writing a specification and engaging all stakeholders in the process from its inception. The result of a design-first process is an API product that is comprehensive, consistent, and understandable by both collaborators and machines. Treating your APIs as products means using a design-first approach to produce the best possible product.

Comparison of code-first vs design-first approach, with code-first approach on the left side documenting their APIs last, and a design-first approach on the right documenting APIs in consultation with governance prior to coding


How to Solve Your API Problems

Full API lifecycle management is the process of overseeing an API from its creation to retirement across its full life span. This includes everything from designing, publishing, documenting, securing, and analyzing APIs. When it comes to breaking down the API Design process itself, there is not a single approach or one “right way.” Instead, we need to lean on proven practices for design to inform the process. Here at Stoplight, we call this the API Design Lifecycle Stages, consisting of the following stages: Definition, Discovery, Design, Document, Collaborate and Govern.


Define what approach you’ll take to lay the foundation of your API program. Outline the goals of your program and the desired outcomes, then access what approach makes sense for you.


You need to have visibility and discoverability into the APIs you’re running in production. API discovery is the ability to search and find different API resources that you can use to seal the loopholes in your existing workflows. Having an overall view of all APIs currently being designed, deployed, monitored, and deprecated is crucial to scaling a successful API program.


Create high-quality API designs in line with industry best practices and organizational needs by enforcing built-in or custom style guides. The API design is the most crucial part of the lifecycle, and the design-first process should guide each stage of the lifecycle.


Help internal and external users discover, learn, and integrate with your API quickly by publishing interactive documentation, tutorials, and code samples that are always up to date. It’s important to generate comprehensive documentation that is always in sync. Help your developers discover value in your APIs faster by trying out API endpoints from within the API documentation.


Improve alignment and collaboration by bringing internal and external stakeholders together in a single platform through style guides, design reviews, close synchronization between internal teams, and a regular feedback loop from your users to your developers.


Improve your API program’s standardization and ability to scale by implementing proper governance and style guidelines. Govern APIs at scale with an always-in-sync, central repository of API designs, schemas, and documentation. You’ll want to build an effective governance strategy that compliments your organization's current practices with a clear view of the current state of design and documentation.

How Stoplight Fits In

What to Do Next

Now that you have the full picture, see how Stoplight fits into your full API Lifecycle journey. Become customer-centric in API design and development, and get started for free by signing up for a Workspace in Stoplight. Let’s design first, develop better.

A flowchart where APIs are part of the entire software developement lifecycle.


About Stoplight

Stoplight is a collaborative API design platform that integrates seamlessly into your existing workflows to enable effective connections that drive business growth. Visit our About Us section to learn about our social impact, our core values, and teammates.


Adopting an API-first philosophy with Stoplight has helped us cut 80% off development time, from idea to consumption. The reason that’s shrinking is that now we get it right the first time. - Paul Trevino, Senior Manager of Engineering, Transact

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