Managing Complexity

Week 3 Reflection Essay

Jiaxin Liu Kay

CCTP 820 Leading by Design

Modularity, as I’ve learned from readings, provides individuals with a method of managing decomposable complex systems through dividing them into separate but interconnected components. The modular designs are everywhere in the daily life with the prosperity of modern technology, thinking of our smart phones, computers, and cable TVs. In this essay, I would continue using Kindle, specifically, Kindle Fire HD, as an example to demonstrate how modularity works in the complex system.

(photo from

First, let’s see the outlook of kindle, very thin, small and simple. The users can only see the screen and the more complex components are actually hidden (black-boxed). And then let’s see what’s behind the simplicity?

(Photos from

The main inner design and technology inside Kindle are extremely complex:

  • Big battery that preserves 10 hours power
  • Motherboard
  • The volume button
  • Dolby Digital Plus speaker system provides optimal quality of virtual surround sound
  • Maxim Integrated MAX97236 Audio Amplifier

From the reading, Baldwin gives us two subsidiary ideas about modularity. The first one is, the whole system will allow a framework inside “interdependence within and independence across modules”; and the second one is about “abstraction, information hiding and interface” (2000). For the inner software of Kindle, each component is independent while also interconnected with one another, for example, the Toshiba 64 Gb (8 GB) e-MMC NAND Flash and Micron 8 Gb (1 GB) Mobile LPDDR2 SDRAM are two separate softwares and works in different ways, while they are both in the motherboard and interconnect with with each other (2013). And as I have mentioned before, the details of the complex Kindle inner system is black-boxed and it seems that only the interfaces are needed. we can see a amount of adhesive holds the battery in place; and the motherboard works as a interface in which many softwares inside the motherboard can actually connect with each other. These are how abstraction and “information encapsulation” principle works Kindle’s modular design, in my opinion.

Modularity and hierarchical design are necessary and of great importance in the modern society,  as they offer us ways to deal with the complex system. As the rapid development of technology, the modality and hierarchical design will be more extensively applied. What we can observe from a digital device is very limited because the real complex parts are black-boxed. And here I also want to address a question: if blackbox a good thing for design? On the one hand, normal people, the customers can use the high-tech devices without knowing its design principles and techniques, and the producers can separated completely with the designer, they can produce every software without knowing its working principle; while on the other hand, will it decrease the possibility for the normal people engaging in designing? And what’s the future of blackbox?


Baldwin, C. Y., & Clark, K. B. (2000). Design Rules, Vol 1: The Power of Modularity. The MIT Press.

Irvine, M. (n.d.). Introducing Modular Design Principles. Retrieved from

Kindle Fire HD 2013 Teardown. (Oct. 2, 2013). Retrieved from: