I think architecting something is different from designing it. I hope you can forgive me but I think it’s a more precise way to express this idea.
Design carries a lot of baggage related to aesthetics. We say something is well-designed if it looks good. There are great designs that don’t look good, certainly, but it’s really easy to get caught up in a bauhaus, white space, font-driven, Ideo-envy way of thinking about design.
So I reserve "architect" to describe the intentional arrangement of design elements to get a certain result.
You can architect a computer server set up to make it more efficient. You can architect a train station to get more people per minute through the turnstiles.
More interesting, you can architect a business model or a pricing structure to make it far more effective at generating the behavior you’re looking for. Most broken websites aren’t broken because they violate common laws of good design. They’re broken because their architecture is all wrong. There’s no strategy in place.
Stew Leonard’s, which used to be my favorite supermarket example, is architected to extract large amounts of money from customers. One example: there’s only one route through the store. You start at the beginning and work your way to the end. No one goes there to buy a half-gallon of milk. And he’s not going to win any design competitions either…
Or consider the architecture of the pricing at 37signals or the architecture of Hotmail’s viral marketing campaign years ago.
Architecture, for me anyway, involves intention, game theory, systems thinking and relentless testing and improvement. Fine with me if you want to call it design, just don’t forget to do it.