Category Archives: Week 3



Grace Chimezie.

Modular design Principles and Systems Thinking.

Modularity is a general set of principles for managing complexity. By breaking up a complex system into discrete pieces, which can then communicate with one another through standard interface within a standardized architecture. According to Irvine, these helps us to manage a larger and more complex whole structure by dividing up its functions into separate, interconnected, component, layers and sub processes.

Due to this organization of software is complex because many arbitrary details must be precisely right for the software to be correct. If people are aware of the complexity involve in the design and thinking process, it takes away the simplicity of the user interface.

I believe that systems that are likely to change independently should be the secret of separate modules the only assumptions that should appear in the interfaces between modules are those that are considered unlikely to change. For instance, people are wired in such a way that they care about the final output of a product, especially when it’s an upgrade from the previous one in a good way. This is evident in the continuous evolving of the iPhone, where slight improvements are made in the modulation of the previous one without a total change in the device usage or visible interface such as use of senses, a central control button and it being handheld.

Fig 1.1 User Interface Design.

The design rules make it difficult for changes to be made to interface and when that occurs it will be for modules that are not widely used. Very unlikely changes would require changes in the interface widely used. An example will be the gradual progression from a keypad mobile or PC device to touch screen.

Fig 1.2 the evolution of the mobile phone.

The interface exposed to us as users is part of a software decision module which can be divided into:

The application data type module; which hides the implementation of certain variables and the physical model module that hide algorithms that stimulate physical phenomena.

Modular structure.

The primary goal of the decomposition into modules is reduction of overall software cost by allowing modules be designed and revised independently. Thereby allowing for implementation of other modules without affecting the behavior of other modules. According to Baldwin and Clark (pp, 181), modularization generally has three purposes

  • To make complexity manageable
  • To enable parallel work and
  • To accommodate future uncertainty

Modularity accommodates uncertainty because the particular elements of a modular design may be changed in unforeseen ways as long as the design rules are obeyed. The design of complex computer systems is what allowed the creation of value. Modularity allows tasks both design tasks and production tasks to be divided among groups, which can work independently and do not have to be part of the same firm, which allows for experimentation as seen in figure 1.3

Fig. 1.3 An iPhone 7 teardown


An attempt to use fewer modules will bring about more complications and will be difficult to identify which module was affected by change.

Modularity in Design, Production & Use.

Humans interact with artefacts in three basic ways; they design them, produce them and use them. There are as a result, three basic types of modularity in design, production and in-use. The reasons for the incremental value of products be it an iPhone or HP detachable PC can be associated with the modularity in design. This is because new designs are fundamentally options with associated economic option value. It multiplies the options inherent in a complex system, in turn increases the economic value of the system and changes the ways in which the systems can evolve. The final outcome of a new design like iPhone X or the HP pavilion X2 10.1 Atom convertible laptop is uncertain until full design has been specified. The new designs provide options for things to be done differently and will only be adopted when it is better, another example as seen with the intelligence assistance of software like Siri, making new models valuable.


Fig 1.4 The new models of acceptable technology.


“Arthur-The Nature of Technology-Excerpts.Pdf.” Google Docs. Accessed September 13, 2017.
“Baldwin-Clark-Modularity-in-Design-of-Complex-Engineering-Systems.Pdf.” Accessed September 19, 2017.


“Langlois-Modularity-in-Tech-and-Organization-JEBO-2002.Pdf.” Accessed September 19, 2017.

How does Spotify work?

In today’s world, we are surrounded by modular designs. The idea of a modular design, as Dr. Irvine states, is that Modularity allows us to manage a larger and more whole complex structure, by diving up it’s functions into separate, interconnected components, layers and subprocesses. This process helps us to understand “the big picture” of how something works, and we do that by looking at the encapsulation boundaries (Langois)

For this week’s post, I wanted to look into Spotify’s Layout and Interface and see how this app works.  To me, Spotify is like a digital library of music. You can listen to the music on your phone, computer, tablet. Once you download the app, you open an account and you’re ready to listen to your favorite songs. Spotify let’s you browse music by artist, album, song name and genre. You can locate artists and song through keyword searches. Most internet music players have some drawbacks when it comes to streaming the audio. If your internet connection is poor, then you will experience pauses, the song will stop playing and that is not a pleasant experience. On the other hand, Spotify uses a peer-to-peer (P2P) network to stream audio. As explained on the Spotify community support page, when you select a song, Spotify’s computers immediately begin sending the data to your computer. Simultaneously, it looks for other Spotify users who have the tune on their computers. When it finds the track, it commands the Spotify software to send bits of the song to your computer, all of which takes a load off of Spotify’s central servers and Internet connection.  Another thing that happens is that,  when you listen to a song, it stores it on your hard drive, which means your computer plays the song instead of Spotify.

Another interesting issue to discuss are the algorithms that Spotify engineers use to shuffle and discover the music that you like. There are mainly two algorithms that are used. The Floyd-Steinberg dithering algorithm and the Fisher Yates Shuffle algorithm.  Fisher-Yates shuffle algorithm is used  to generate a perfectly random shuffling of a playlist.

This picture helps us to better understand how the algorithm works.  Let’s say that we want to shuffle songs from 5 different artists, where each of them has a certain number of songs. This algorithms groups the songs into clusters of the same artist, and spreads them equally throughout the playlist, so each song appears roughly every 25% of the length of the playlist.

When it comes to interfaces, Spotify let’s you synchronize the playlists, so you can listen to them from your phone or your desktop. And this is done automatically. Except songs and albums, Spotify has incorporated podcasts and videos as part of their platform. And after a recent deal between Facebook and Spotify, now you can share the playlists and songs that you listen to, with your friends on Facebook, so we see a collaboration between different platforms.

After all, even though there is a lot going on in the background, where the DNS servers handle all the traffic, and the algorithms help to choose the right songs, it seems like Spotifu has an easy to use interface and layout for the user.


Irvine, Martin Introduction to Modularity and Abstraction Layers

Langlois, Richard  “Modularity in Technology and Organization.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 49, no. 1 (September 2002): 19-37.

Poláček, Lucas December 09, 2014. How to shuffle songs?

Chandler, Nathan October 03,2011  How Spotify Works.

GoPro Hero 4 – How Camera is Dismantled and Becomes a Better Recorder for Actions

This week’s readings address modularity and modular design, which divides up a whole complex system into interconnected, self-contained systems [i]. Modularity, according to Universal Principles of Design, helps to decentralize the system architecture, and thus improves reliability, flexibility, and maintainability [ii]. Gradual innovations on the module level, or sometimes even the recombination of modules, could improve the user experience significantly [v]. Electronics nowadays tend to inbound more modules into the same gadget to make it more capable (such as smart phones – it is not only a communication tool, but with different modules combined, is also a camera, file handler, MP3, etc.). On the other hand, GoPro is doing the contrary. To some extend it is trying to dismantle a camera module and keeping only the most essential parts within the gadget, while externalizing the “not that necessary” modules. Here I would like to use GoPro Hero 4 as a case to examine the modularity principle.


Essential modules in GoPro Hero 4

Dessemply of GoPro Hero 4 from IFIXIT


This replacement guide shows us the hardware in GoPro. From the instructor’s level, essential modular in GoPro Hero 4 are [iii]:

  • “SuperView” Lens: focuses the light before it reaches the camera sensor, enabling the camera to take wide-angle pictures
  • Image Sensor: an optical device used to capture light and store the visual data into digital storage
  • Speaker: to record sounds
  • Motherboard: the brain of the camera, controlling all of its functions
  • Battery: to power the device
  • Port: to connect LCD devices, external battery packs, and other accessories
  • LCD Screen: show feedback once the user gives instructions


Externalize GUI – How it Becomes More Suitable for Activity Filming

One of the major differences between Hero 4 and a common digital camera is that Hero 4 does not have a built-in display system – there’s no screen, no eyepiece for the users to see the picture while taking it. It is designed and reduced to the core principle of a camera –  a sensor only to capture and record sounds and images.

The display system, which is embedded in most of the cameras, is externalized from Hero 4. This gadget is thus “remodualized” as a tinier one caters to the need of action sport lovers, as for them, recording the experiences is the deepest sense, and the display system would not be frequently used while users are doing outdoor sports. The removal of the screen makes Hero 4 a smaller and easier-to-attach camera than the normal ones, and also saves the battery so that it can be used for longer for one charge.

The externalized display system becomes the GoPro application, which users could easily access on any portable devices through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. GoPro app works as the Graphical User Interface (GUI) for the camera, and users could easily use it to control their GoPro, check out the shots or create clips. Moreover, as this external GUI can directly connect GoPro to the cell phone, it provides the users an easier approach to share the moments to social media, such as Instagram and Facebook, thus better connects them to the community they want to be a part of.


Introducing Capture App


Accessories – Flexible Design according to the Users’ Preference 

Following the basic structures-context-changes template, changes occur as a result of combinations and sequences of simple structures [v]. GoPro has also provided its users other add-on modules to improve the camera’s performance. For example, LCD BacPac shows the captured pictures directly, Drone enables users to take aerial photos, Karma Grip stabilizes the GoPro camera for capturing smooth videos, and also, with cases and mounts, GoPro is waterproofed, and could be attached to wherever the user want it to be [vi]. To some extend, GoPro camera could be seen as the most central piece of module in the whole GoPro system, while the add-on modules creates space for the users to personalize their own camera, thus adjustments and differences could be made by changing a piece of the system without redoing the whole.  

The notion of a core piece and add-on accessories not only helps the company to profit more, but more importantly, it invites users into the design process and build up their GoPro according to their own preferences and requirements. At this point, GoPro could be seen as a “just-embedded system”, that the modular innovation and recombination are encouraged by the visible design rules, and there are also space  for future system evolutions [iv].

One of the add-on accessories choices: the Drone




[i] Martin Irvine, “Introduction to Modularity and Abstraction Layers”.

[ii] Lidwell, William, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler. Universal Principles of Design. Revised. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2010.

[iii] “GoPro Hero4 Silver Repair.” IFixit. Accessed September 20, 2017.

[iv] Richard N. Langlois, “Modularity in Technology and Organization.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 49, no. 1 (September 2002): 19-37.

[v] Carliss Y. Baldwin and Kim B. Clark, Design Rules, Vol. 1: The Power of Modularity. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000.

[vi] “Gopro Homepage.” Accessed September 20, 2017.

Modularity in the Samsung Galaxy S6

After spending some time rooting around, I’ve come to see the smartphone as a textbook display of modularity in action. As the Langlois reading notes, the concept of modularity has been in application for quite some time in the social sciences, but the increasing complexity of modern technological devices makes it a fundamental concept to grasp if one wants to de-blackbox a modern device such as a smartphone.

I have a Samsung Galaxy S6, so I decided to look at iFixIt’s teardown guide to see how the various components of this device that has been so central to my life interact with one another. I knew there would be modularity in the overall design of the device, but I was curious to see what form that modularity took, and if I could identify or understand the philosophy behind the form its modularity took.

As an electronics neophyte, the first thing that struck me once they opened up the back of the device was the complexity present. There were a lot of chips and circuits and electronic components that were overwhelmingly unidentifiable to me. But I did see the seeds of what I believe to be modularity. It didn’t look as though all the various components were thrown together haphazardly; it looked as though there was a rhyme and a reason for their placements.

Removing the midframe.

As the teardown continued by identifying the battery and the motherboard and the camera, the modular design concepts of decomposability and interdependency became clear. The former was inherent to the entire teardown process, and the latter was alluded to with the guide’s suggestions of upgrading distinct components of the device without having to obtain an entirely new one. Anyone who has ever damaged some element of his or her smartphone, be it the screen or a button or the camera, and still had the device be functional can thank the fact that it is a decomposable system.

Nowhere was the principle of modular design more present than the motherboard of the device.

Front of the motherboard.

Back of the motherboard.

All these various components were broken down into their subassemblies, and they all were tasked with doing a distinct function. Clearly visible were the core processor, the image processor, the audio codec, the transceiver, the audio amplifier, etc. Different companies created most of these components, but they come together to create a whole that is worth more than the sum of its parts. I look forward to seeing more examples of design thinking throughout this term.

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:




Specialization: No one can be an expert in everything

Last week I examined how the average consumer’s disinterest in the inner workings of their smart phone is in part due to vast difference between their conceptual model (often called a mental model) for how to work their phone functions and what they would find if they performed an autopsy of the same device. In Universal Principles of Design, the mental model is broken out into two distinct types, the interaction model and the system model. (1) The average customer is only familiar with the interaction model which allows them to successfully operate their device. Designers create an interaction models based on a “fiction” that simplifies all the complexity of the system model and to avoid customer confusion. (2) Part of this fiction can be seen in the icons which allow the customer to access separate applications. For example, one icon places a call while another streams video from an entertainment company. These appear, from the outside, to be separate and distinct, but if they were to be accurately mapped to the system model, it would be clear that they utilize many of the same components, despite performing very different functions. Good design blackboxes technology, resulting in customers who don’t question the makeup of their devices. Specialists, then, would be needed for any breakdown in functionality. However, when technology is as complicated as a smartphone, more than one specialist may be needed, because within the smart phone an entire ecosystem of technology resides.

Smart phones rely on the principles of modularity. Modularity can be defined as the act of breaking up complex technologies into “functional clusters of similarity in systems and then transforming the clusters into independent self-contained…modules.” (3) In short, a complex system can be broken up into modules, each of which could be the focus of a different specialist or team, and as long as modules are able to interact with the other modules in the system, through their interfaces and in line with the established interaction protocols, there is no need for anyone to specialize in everything. There is some argument that not only can communication between specialists teams be limited, it in fact should be limited. (4) Again, functionality is increased if the complexity is hidden and the whole system works harmoniously. In the case of the smart phone, most modules are not even made by the same company.

Modularity is at it’s heart, the division of labor, and with it comes basic economics. If specialization in one component of a technology is achievable, and if there is an established market for that component, such as is found in the smart phone, market forces will take over and industries will grow out of the design and manufacture of those components. It’s cheaper and more cost effective to specialize. The blackboxing of technology, already encouraged by the very design principles of modularity, then becomes enhanced as companies work to maintain competitive advantage through controlling public information about their technology products. While disinterest and confusion contribute to the way consumers view their technologies, design principles and market forces make it difficult for even those with a keen interest to dive into the web of interconnected modules needed to create a smart phone. While they might have a simplified understanding of what role in the system each module plays, the system model of the module might be alien to them.

(1) William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler. Universal Principles of Design. Revised. (Beverly: Rockport Publishers, 2010), 130.
(2) Donald A. Norman, Living with Complexity, (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2010), 35.
(3) William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler. Universal Principles of Design. Revised. (Beverly: Rockport Publishers, 2010), 135.
(4) Richard N. Langlois, “Modularity in Technology and Organization,” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 49, no. 1 (2002), 22.

My mom and the iPhone: a love story

When we think about what we’ve read so far on the concept of modularity and modular design, we can get overwhelmed by the knowledge of how much actual thinking happens before actually doing or designing something. Of course, by last week’s readings we learned that most of the technological development happens in the mind before it “comes to life” as a combination of different technologies or systems. But when I say a lot of “thinking” before “doing” I don’t mean it in the explicit way; I’m alluding to the amount of self awareness and awareness of others that might interact with what you’re doing.

But how does a modular system work?

In Modularity in Technology and Organization (2002), Langlois briefly describes three key components of modularity:

  • Design architecture: what is part of the module and what is its function,
  • Interfaces for connecting modules: how they interact, fit together and communicate and
  • Standards: its own design rules to measure it and compare its performance to other modules.

For this particular analysis I will focus on interfaces in relation to the concepts of affordances and mental models expressed in Universal Principles of Design (2003) by Lidwell, Holden and Butler to illustrate how my mom’s relationship with technology changed drastically after the iPhone.

Not an actual picture of my mom.

These three concepts stuck with me through and shed a light on user interaction. First, I have to set the context. My mom is a 64 year old lawyer who has never had a good relationship with technology. She has somewhat adapted through the years, but it has been a slow process: from typewriters to computers, from actual letters to emails, from photocopies to scanning and then the sorcery that is the internet. Overall she gets there, just a few years later than everybody else, and interacting at least 50% less than everybody else. For many years she went through a very long and very varied selection of mobile phones, and she struggled through them all. Frustrated, she would realize that, just as she was getting used to them, something better, faster and smarter was already making its way to her hands, thus starting the process all over again. This was the pattern until, reluctantly, she succumbed to my pressure and got an iPhone.

As the “technological” person in the house (which basically consisted of turning things off and on again) I thought I would have to give my mom the regular crash course of “how do you use this thing again? and where are my contacts?” like I did many times before. To my surprise, I barely had to guide her because, as she looked at it, she instinctively knew where to go and how to do most of the things. Not only that, but the need to use most of the smartphone functions to communicate with family abroad forced her to learn, by herself, how to do it. In a very short time she was using Whatsapp efficiently, Facetiming, sending voice notes, videos, pictures and I kept hearing “do you think there’s an app for…?”. I believe this is related to the concepts of affordances and mental models.

In Universal Principles of Design affordances is defined as “a property in which the physical characteristics of an object or environment influence its function” (pag. 20) and the authors give an specific example that goes beyond the physical designs. They mention that the design of common physical objects in a screen helps us associate its function with those of the real world such as buttons, folders and trashcans. Which made me wonder, what are the affordances in the design of the icons, buttons and other graphic designs on iOS that makes it so easy for my mom to understand their intended function and not use them improperly?

I’m old enough to know these are floppy disks and to have used them.

The “save” button.








Side question: what happens when the design of the icon no longer holds the concept it used to in the real world? for example, the “save” button is a floppy disk. Most people younger than me had never used one or even know what it is, so the icon is mainly recognized as a “save” button.

But going back to my mom’s enlightening with iOS. Besides the concept of affordances to explain part of this interaction, I also see a connection with the concept of mental models. In Universal Principles of Design the authors express that “people understand and interact with systems and environments based on mental representations developed from experience” (pag. 131) and they make a clear distinction in between how the system works and how people interact with it. They even affirm that, most of the time, designers know much about how a system works, but little about how people interact with it, while the users know very little or sometimes inaccurately things about the system but, by use and experience, are able to attain interaction models better than the designers.

Based on this description, and my mom’s experience, it would be safe to say that the use of both mental models was very well thought and applied in the design of both iPhone and iOS. At the end of the day, as it was mentioned last week, my mom doesn’t care about how it works but that it works. In this case it doesn’t only work but it does easily and efficiently for her. I thought about this while reading Modularity in Technology and Organization in which Langlois illustrates the benefits and the costs of both decomposable and non-decomposable systems in relation to interdependence. Langlois cites Alexander who was referring to architecture and urban design when he said “the most attractive and durable systems are those ones develop through an unselfconscious process” (pag. 23). I might be wrong but I think this could be applied to my mom’s interaction with iOS.

Who taught her how to use that?

I’m not saying this particular characteristic pertains solely to iOS or Apple. We see it with almost every device and operating system. We describe this experience as “user friendly” and we see this interaction on everyone: from our technology-allergic parents/grandparents to toddlers ordering things from amazon. However, it’s interesting to think about this bridge between not knowing how it works but knowing perfectly how to interact with it.



  • Lidwell, W., Holden, K., & Butler, J. (2003). Universal Principles of Design. Rockport.
  • Langlois, R. (2002). Modularity in technology and organization. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization. Vol. 49.
  • Images: stock photos. Google.


Things I still don’t understand very well: layers, symbolic abstraction and hierarchy.


New Way to See Your iPhone

Modules of an iPhone

An iphone7, in a size of 138.3mm*67.1mm*7.1mm and weight of 138 grams, is portable while having a complex structure with no less than a hundred tiny items under its cover enabling it to handle difficult tasks.


At the first glance, it may seem difficult and even impossible for such a small device to operate so many parts at the same time. But Lidwell and Butler provide us with a good point to deal with this problem. They said that grouping elements can help us reduce the number of distinct elements thus make a complex system simpler, which is in other words, to get it modularized.


Baldwin gave us two subsidiary ideas about modularity:

  •  interdependence within and independence across modules
  •  abstraction, information hiding and interface


Actually, we can divide the hardware of an iPhone into modules like logic board, PCB diagram and so on, which are independent from each other. In this procedure, we need first narrow the number of the interactive points between the logic board and PCB diagram, abstracting complexity into simple modules. Then define the visible and invisible parameters of the architect and hide information inside of a module to form a complete modularity system. This time, the designer of logic board can just focus this item, free from worrying about PCB diagram. And in fact, he will barely know anything about what a designer in charge of PCB diagram is doing, as parameters for PCB diagram can only be accessed by PCB diagram designer to reduce unnecessary communications and simplify the whole process.

From the prospective of a user, when the logic board broken down, he can just check the board to see what’s going wrong and perhaps finally replace it with another one instead of a whole new iPhone.


Design Hierarchy

By discussing the how to truly hiding information, we come to the form of design hierarchy which can make the relationship between visible and invisible parameters clearer.

(photo: Design Rules, Vol 1: The Power of Modularity)

This reminds me of the operation of a company, an ideal example for us to understand the principle of “the design hierarchy”. In a company, the president sets up a series of rules for all the employees. These rules is just like the “Global Design Rules” in “the design hierarchy” which should be not only known by the employees(“A-B Interface”, “C-D Interface”, “Module B” and “Module D”) but also obeyed and sometimes , new employees may have examinations to see how well they know about the rules. In this way, all the employees know the company’s rules well. Sometimes, the company may face a shortage in staffs thus hire some casual laborers and interns. In this case, these casual laborers and interns play a role as “Module A and D”. As they don’t have a long-term contact with the company, there’s no compulsory request for them to learn the specific rules of the company (although they may know a part of the rules like the working hours and how will they be paid from their team leaders or department managers). Everyday intermediate managers get directions from the president and allocate works to their subordinates and employees from different team or department are unlikely to know each other, let alone the works he/she is doing. In a well-managed company, the president do not need to spend his precious time on each employees, but an intermediate manager should ensure his subordinates know well of his orders.


Sadly, after reading so many materials, I’m still a bit confused about the concept of “interfere”. As Baldwin mentioned in Design Rules 1: the Power of Modularity, “An interface is a preestablished way to resolve potential conflicts between interacting parts of a design,” interface is visible for all designers involved.

Actually, the interface I’m most familiar with is “the users interface”. Take Wangyiyun Music, a music broadcasting app, as an example.

(photo: Google)

The designer has hidden nearly all the parameters from users and the only way for users to interact with Wangyiyun Music is through interface. The interface is like a entrance for users to get contact with the app, give it commands and get feedback; however, it also function as a window, too small for users to see how the staffs behind it works. In fact, considering the limit of one’s energy and time, users won’t bother to know how an app works, let alone the parameters and codes.

But if we look interface from the view of a designer, I wonder whether there’s a “designer interface” for designers; and if it does exist, is it look the same as user interface?



Richard N. Longlois. (2002). Modularity in Tech and Organization. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

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








modular design for iphone

I used to know that each product, like car, cellphone, TV, is not being produced by one single manufacture. I used to treat this as cooperation example, but now I know it is the modularity. Take iphone as an example.

The whole cellphone can be decomposed into several parts, the core process chip, sound and visual card, battery, speaker, home button with fingerprint recognize chip, camera, wifi receiver, each separate part manage different function. And they are all hidden inside one cellphone. The chips are not all being produced by Apple Company, which may become a huge work that are unable to complete. The company just uses modular design; they compose different function parts together to achieve a goal of multi-function smart phone. For example, they combined the press button with finger print-recognize chip so the iphone can be unlock by people’s fingerprint. And also, the fingerprint recognize technique is applied with different applications like Paypal and appstore so that you may pay, or log in application by your finger print.

The modularity can also help companies to save money, and easier to repair. If your screen is broken, change a screen, if your speaker is not working, change a speaker. In a indecomposable system, you would have to buy a new cellphone under each case.

Also, if company wants to upgrade operating system, we just have to upgrade it instead of buying a new one to get the newest edition. The new iphone come with new design of function just need to add or change parts to the existing system. For example, the new iphone X added facial recognition technique into cellphone, combined with camera, so now you may also unlock cellphone with your face. It cost low communication cost since designers do not have to know how each part process, they just need to know what different parts are responsible for. The interfaces are hiding information from designers to improve efficiency, as well as accelerate innovation process. Different companies produce slightly different products with same function can make designers easier to choose the best parts, exchange and decline time period for new design. But with the developing world of knowledge, designers are also challenged to acknowledge the change and new function in these parts. The dynamic strategies is also very important for designers since things are developed more rapidly with modularity.


picture :

Martin Irvine, Introduction to Modularity and Abstraction Layers

Lidwell, William, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler, Universal Principles of Design

Richard N. Langlois, Modularity in Technology and Organization

Modularization never ends

If someone asked me last week to talk about how iPhone is modularized, I might only think of the internal hardware assemblies in such a kind of “black-box”. Modularity could be discovered in iPhone through both hardware and operating system (iOS) with the upgrades of architecture and interfaces.

Mental Model affects Modularity

As one of the design principles, mental model perfectly explains modularity from the perspective of users and designers respectively. Lidwell, Holden and Butler state that “based on mental representations developed from experience, users have complete interaction models while designers generally have accurate design models.” (p.130) Holding an iPhone on the hand, users use fingers to press buttons on touch screen by instinct, opening or closing as the first time when they used an iPhone. Normally they would not think of other ways to enter the interface of the device. If the touch screen is accidentally broken, users would firstly think about the possibility and cost to replace a new touch screen instead of changing a brand new iPhone.

Modularization helps reduce the complexity of the device, shaping user experience and ways people interact with the system. However, designers lean toward focusing on how the system works, applying their design experience into the development of modules. “Designers upgrade ideal icon sizes that measure at least 44 points x 44 points on the touch screen so that users can accurately tap with finger. ” The 3D Touch technology was designed that people can press harder on an app icon to get shortcuts of frequently used items. The pressure sensor is located on the module of the touch screen.

This upgrade of module not only shows flexibility and user-friendly function on a hardware base, modularity also occurs in the operating system. Users could easily adjust the amount of pressure to activate 3D touch in the setting column. Modularity emerges and improves from either using or design experience, while it also gives effective feedback to users and designers during the development of the system.

Assumptions and questions about the artifacts of organizations

Langlois mentions that “modularity in the design of products leads to the modularity in the design of the organizations that produce such products.” (p.19) iPhone sub-assemblies are produced in different companies around the world. Nowadays various iPhone accessories also stimulate the evolution of modular designs, such as portable iPhone Lenses. Although the development of iPhone accessories in a modular way helps improve using experience of the system, will the diversified trend of modularity raise controversial issues such as intellectual property in the future?


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