Characteristics of an effective API

If you’re planning to upgrade your business technology, this almost certainly means working with an API. Either you’re building your own to integrate your on-premises technology, importing a third-party API for added functionalities, or monetizing your current capabilities. Regardless, you may find yourself working with a lot of APIs in the near future. But you may not know what to look for in searching for a high-quality API. In this article we’ll look at some of the basic characteristics of an effective API to give you a head-start on your API development process.

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What Is an API?

An API is an essential tool in today’s business technology. APIs facilitate integration between apps and services regardless of programming language, operating system, or file type. Effective use of APIs can open your business up to a new economy of data and microservices. Or it can give you a new revenue stream by exposing your business capabilities. The best APIs have a few traits in common.

Outside-In Strategy

The most important characteristic for your API starts before it’s even built. When planning for your new business strategy and the structure of your API, you want to look at it from an outside-in perspective. This means taking into account the user experience first and planning your technology around it. You may also see it called a “design first” or “top down” API strategy.

Steve Jobs once said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology — not the other way around.” By putting the user and their experience first, you ensure that your API (or any other technology) will be accessible, intuitive, and easily adoptable. There’s no hard playbook for this, but most methods for accomplishing it revolve around the same basic framework:

  • A prioritization model for making decisions
  • An understanding of your audience and their needs
  • A value proposition that fits those needs

If you have trouble with getting in the mind of your audience, you could make a user persona or two to help. Once you understand your target audience, then it’s time to evaluate the technology you have and what you can introduce to meet their needs.

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User-First Execution

The following traits play into the user experience. When someone works with your finished API, you want to show that you value their time and effort.


Your API needs to be designed in a way such that users want to interact with it. A poorly designed API will turn off your users, but good design will engage them. An accessible API will be more successful than a complicated one with more features. It is important to remember that a number of stakeholders within your organization will be ‘consumers’ of your API. Making it easy to access and use is therefore critical to the effectiveness of your API.


This is key when working with multiple APIs. Your authentication and security measures must be consistent across all of them. Consistency also matters when users are connected with different devices. Ensuring consistency will mean that your development processes are standardized – reducing the risk associated with the development and deployment of APIs.


You won’t be able to hold your user’s hand through the API, and you shouldn’t have to. An effective API is also discoverable, meaning the user can intuitively learn how to work within it. It’s also important for developers to find which of your API offerings they need. An API management platform can help with this by providing an API catalog which details your organization’s suite of APIs.


Your API is only as good as its documentation. This is true whether you open it up to the greater API economy or keep it in house. One way or another, someone new will need to look at your API and work with it. You want to make sure it’s documented in a way that follows convention and is easy to understand. Good documentation will also help with discovery, mentioned above. Adding resources like a code library, SDK, or an API sandbox will make it easier for developers to work with your API and facilitate new innovations.

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About DreamFactory

Do you need assistance in generating an effective API? DreamFactory is a full-service API management platform that can help you build and manage APIs throughout their lifecycle. All without a line of code on your end. With our platform, you can build a secure, documented, and full-featured REST API in minutes.

Ready to get started? We can help you build your first full-featured, secure, and documented API in minutes. Start your 14-day free trial and take a guided tour using our sample data or your existing database.