Product Architecture: A Comprehensive Guide in 5 Points (2021)


Karl T. Ulrich an author and educator has written extensively about development and product design. According to him, Product architecture is defined as the scheme with which the function of a particular product is allocated to its physical components. Technically product architecture definition is- it is the arrangements of the functional elements of a product into physical chunks that will become the basis or building blocks for that product or a group of products.  

What is product architecture? Chunking or organization of the functional elements of a product is Product architecture. The way the chunks or elements interact is product architecture. It plays an important role in designing, making, selling, and repairing a new product. It also involves a linking system and level design and principles of engineering of the system. In simple terms, it refers to the strategy of mapping the function to form. Product architecture is especially relevant to functions pertaining to the research and development (R & D) of an organization. The decisions are particularly taken during the starting or early stages of the process of innovation where the lead role is played by research and development. 

The product architecture diagram is given below: 

  1. Basic Steps
  2. Product Architecture Examples
  3. Product Design Architecture
  4. Types of Product Architecture
  5. Product Architecture Definition

1) Basic steps involved are:  

  1. Creation of a schematic for the product. 
  2. Clustering the schematic elements 
  3. Drafting of geometric layout 
  4. Identification of incidental and fundamental interactions. 

2) Product architecture examples:

decisions of product architecture relate to planning the product and developing a concept for the same. Some examples are  

  1. Camera Lenses in compact cameras, copier toner (product change) 
  2. Computer and automobiles (product variety). 
  3. Motor, fasteners, and bearing (standardization) 
  4. Fighter planes, racing bikes (performance) 
  5. Razors and disk drives (manufacturing cost) etc. 

To elaborate the product change example-  

  • Multiple chunks implement the functional elements or many functions may be implemented by multiple chunks.  
  • There is a poor definition of interaction between chunks.  
  • For any specific product model, an increase in performance and a decrease in cost is generally influenced by integral architecture. 

3) Product design architecture

  • To respond to an environmental necessity, an architect’s ability is extended by product design so as to use creative skills with a keen eye for artistic interpretation and planning. To design products, many of the explored and addressed principles can be applied. Fundamental to an architect’s toolkit, is a multidisciplinary, board-based approach, that lends itself appropriately to the interest of product design. Architects are most often perfectly suited and willing to take up small scale projects by focusing on details and appreciation for aesthetics that are scalable. 
  • One practical solution for architects is to design furniture for the newly designed building’s needs as it is common to not find the appropriate design of furniture in the market and develop a product that is in alignment with the form, shape, and design of the building. This enables the architect to take control personally over the interior environment. The enhanced level of the architect and involvement with designing products within the newly designed building has a potential for increasing the cohesive identification of the structure. 

4) Types of Product Architecture: 

What are product architecture and its types? Product architecture is mainly concerned with the way a product is arranged into physical parts which are components and assemblies. A number of sub-functions are identified after the comprehensive function of the product is reviewed for achieving the overall function. Hence, to carry out sub-functions and subsequently whole functions, parts and assemblies should be assigned.  

Product architecture is of two fundamental types-Modular and Integral.  

Modular Product Architecture: Well defined components functionally interface with self-contained modules in the modular type. For development and completion of a specific function, a product is organized into many modules. The overall purpose of the product is carried out by the interaction between these modules. The advantages of this type of architecture includes outsourcing and task allocation. Advantages of modular architecture also includes standardization/reuse for the development of new products, scale economies, maintenance and mass customization.  

The second type is integral product architecture. In this type, physical elements share the functions. Mapping between functions and components involve greater complexity. However, to make it easier to optimize overall system, components are adapted or designed for specific products. 

5) Product Architecture Definition

Product architecture is mainly concerned with the way a product is arranged into physical parts which are components and assemblies. A number of sub-functions are identified after the comprehensive function of the product is reviewed for achieving the overall function.

Modular versus Integral Product Architecture: the arrangement where functions of the product are done by an array of parts that need not be organized or arranged in assemblies are described by the integral design whereas in the modular design particular functions necessary for achieving the overall purpose of the product are identified. The product in integral type is arranged as a small structured and logical framework than in the modular type. The integral design has more advantages than the modular design. Parts and a group of parts are less interchangeable in the modular design whereas product development is done independently and separately in the integral design. There are cost implications for servicing and maintenance.   

Product architectural design is the process of collecting and defining software and hardware components and the interfaces for establishing a framework for developing a computer system. A number of architectural styles can be exhibited in software that is built for computer-based systems. In order to represent a software design, software needs an architectural design. 

A system category will be described by each style consisting of: 

  • A group of components that can perform a required function for the system (example: computational modules, database). 
  • Connectors- Cooperation, connection, and communication between the components will be helped by a set of connectors. 
  • Conditions which show that in order to form a system, integration of components can be done.  
  • Semantic models assist the designer in understanding the overall characteristics of the system. 


product architecture is essential for designing and introducing new and customized products that can increase sales and at the same time be cost-efficient. For achieving overall function and responding to environmental necessities, product design has become an integral part of the architectural world be it software or hardware. 

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