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Wholistic Application Design: A Data-Driven Approach to Building Better Applications

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    Andrew Blase


Imagine launching a new SaaS product only to find out that your database can't handle user growth, and your API calls are sluggish. These issues often stem from a front-end-first design approach. Let's explore how starting with a wholistic application design can prevent these pitfalls. This strategy offers a solution by starting with data planning and creating a cohesive design that mirrors user interactions more closely.

Wholistic Application Design: A Data-Driven Approach to Building Better Applications

Understanding Wholistic Application Design

Wholistic application design is an approach that begins with a comprehensive understanding of the types of data your application will need and how these data elements relate to each other. Instead of focusing on the user interface first, you start by planning the data structure, creating a normalized database, and designing APIs that provide seamless access to this data.

Real-Life Example

Consider a SaaS application for project management. You need to manage users, projects, tasks, and deadlines. By understanding these entities and their relationships, you can design a cohesive data model that supports all necessary operations efficiently.

The Problems with Front-End-First Design

Front-end-first design can lead to several significant issues:

  • Poor Database Design: Without a solid understanding of the data, databases are often poorly normalized, leading to redundancy and inefficiency.
  • Increased Complexity: Transforming data between different formats for the front end and back end increases code complexity and potential for errors.
  • Scalability Issues: As the application grows, the poorly designed data structures can become a bottleneck, making it difficult to scale.

Detailed Example

A front-end-first approach might result in a user table that includes project details directly. This redundancy can lead to issues when a project needs to be updated, as the information must be changed in multiple places, increasing the risk of inconsistencies.

Planning Data and Designing the Database

Data Planning

The first step in wholistic application design is to identify the types of data your application will handle. This involves understanding the core entities and their relationships. For example, in a SaaS application, you might need to manage users, subscriptions, billing information, and more.

Data Planning Flowchart

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Identify Entities: List all the entities your application will manage (e.g., users, projects, tasks).
  2. Define Relationships: Understand how these entities relate to each other (e.g., a user can have multiple projects).
  3. Create ERD: Use tools like Lucidchart to create an Entity-Relationship Diagram.

Database Design

Once you have a clear understanding of the data, the next step is to design a normalized database schema. Normalization involves organizing the data to minimize redundancy and ensure data integrity. This results in a more efficient database that is easier to maintain and scale.

Tools and Resources

  • ERD Tools: Lucidchart,
  • Database Management: pgAdmin, MySQL Workbench

Designing the API

With the database schema in place, the next step is to design the API. The choice between REST and GraphQL depends on the specific needs of your application.


REST (Representational State Transfer) is a widely used architectural style for designing networked applications. It relies on stateless, client-server communication and uses standard HTTP methods like GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE.


GraphQL is a query language for APIs that allows clients to request exactly the data they need. Unlike REST, which requires multiple endpoints for different data sets, GraphQL provides a single endpoint that can handle complex queries.

Comparison Table

StructureMultiple endpointsSingle endpoint
Data FetchingFixed data structureFlexible queries
Learning CurveEasierSteeper

Use Cases

  • REST: Ideal for simple, CRUD-based applications.
  • GraphQL: Suited for complex applications requiring dynamic queries.

The Benefits of Using Progress Databases and ORMs

Progress Databases

Progress databases are an excellent choice for SaaS applications due to their robustness, scalability, and support for advanced data management features. They facilitate efficient data storage and retrieval, making them ideal for applications with complex data requirements.

ORMs (Object-Relational Mappers)

ORMs simplify database interactions by allowing developers to work with data using higher-level programming constructs rather than raw SQL queries. This abstraction layer can increase productivity and reduce the likelihood of errors.

  • Prisma (Node.js)
  • Hibernate (Java)
  • SQLAlchemy (Python)

Front-End Frameworks: Next.js and Nuxt.js


Next.js is a popular React framework that enables server-side rendering and static site generation. It is well-suited for building performant, scalable web applications.

Code Snippet

import React from 'react';
import { useQuery } from '@apollo/client';
import gql from 'graphql-tag';

const GET_PROJECTS = gql`
  query GetProjects {
    projects {

function Projects() {
  const { loading, error, data } = useQuery(GET_PROJECTS);

  if (loading) return <p>Loading...</p>;
  if (error) return <p>Error :(</p>;

  return (
      { => (
        <div key={}>{}</div>

export default Projects;


Nuxt.js, built on top of Vue.js, offers similar benefits, including server-side rendering and static site generation. It simplifies the development of Vue applications and provides a powerful framework for creating high-performance web apps.

Benefits of Wholistic Application Design

Benefits of Wholistic Application Design

Closer Alignment with User Experience

By starting with data planning, the resulting database and API design closely mirror user interactions. This reduces the need for data transformations and simplifies the overall architecture.

Reduced Code and Complexity

A well-designed database and API reduce the amount of code required to manage data. This leads to less boilerplate code and a more maintainable codebase.

Improved Performance and Scalability

Optimized database schemas and efficient data structures improve application performance and make it easier to scale as your user base grows.

Implementing Wholistic Design in Your Team

Steps to Get Started

  1. Data Discovery: Begin by identifying the core data entities and their relationships.
  2. Database Design: Create a normalized database schema based on the data requirements.
  3. API Design: Choose the appropriate API style (REST or GraphQL) and design endpoints that provide efficient data access.
  4. Front-End Integration: Use frameworks like Next.js or Nuxt.js to build the user interface, ensuring it works seamlessly with the back-end data structures.

Best Practices

  • Iterative Design: Continuously refine the data model and API design based on feedback and changing requirements.
  • Documentation: Maintain thorough documentation of the data model, API endpoints, and their usage.
  • Testing: Implement robust testing strategies to ensure data integrity and API reliability.

Common Challenges

  • Adapting to Change: Teams may face resistance when transitioning to a new design approach. Encourage gradual adoption and provide training sessions.
  • Complexity: The initial setup may seem complex. Break down the process into smaller steps and focus on one aspect at a time.


Wholistic application design offers a structured approach to building applications that are efficient, scalable, and closely aligned with user needs. By starting with data planning and creating a cohesive design, you can avoid common pitfalls of front-end-first design and deliver a superior user experience.

Additional Resources

  • Books: "Designing Data-Intensive Applications" by Martin Kleppmann, "RESTful Web APIs" by Leonard Richardson and Mike Amundsen.
  • Articles: "GraphQL vs REST: Overview, Benefits & Comparison" on Medium, "Database Design Best Practices" on DZone.
  • Tools: Entity-Relationship Diagram (ERD) tools like Lucidchart, database management tools like pgAdmin, and API design tools like Postman.
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