Category Archives: Week 3

Modularity in Sonos

This week’s readings were a fascinating dive into interdependency among various entities which make up a product, an app or really any kind of technology. The design of such technologies depend on this interdependence and bringing together of different values, structures, and functions.

As Langlois discusses: “But a modular system is not automatically a decomposable one since one can break the systems into modules whose internal workings remain highly interdependent with the internal workings of other modules.” When applying these concepts to my Google Pixel phone, it is easier to understand why the company puts such a high importance on software as opposed to hardware. Through linking the various components of the google platform (from search to email to content), it is able to create an ecosystem which is built from individual parts and comes together through the use of the hardware.

When looking at individual functions, the “Sonos” music app can be an interesting example of how modules work together across platforms and hardware to produce the overriding function of the application. Sonos is different from Bluetooth devices as it doesn’t just send music to a speaker to play. It links one’s streaming service to the Sonos home app, then through the Sonos app, you pick the music (instead of directly going to your streaming service), which then uses a wifi connection to play the music on it’s Sonos speaker. You can only play music on a Sonos speaker from the Sonos app, and in contrast to Bluetooth, you must have wifi. Therefore the various components are your own personal wifi system, your streaming service and information combined with the Sonos app and Sonos speaker system. What had to be designed for the app was merely a station to combine a wifi service and streaming service and link with the speaker. The Sonos app isn’t very complex and acts as a vehicle for the services a person probably already contains. It is a canny way to ensure you use a Sonos app with a Sonos machine, so when using the speakers you are only using their system on the surface, even though practically you are using other entities than just Sonos. This ‘complex’ system is quite the opposite, again merely an ecosystem of products being made to work together in harmony.

Baldwin, C. and Clark K. (2000) Design Rules, Vol. 1: The Power of Modularity. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press

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

Independency vs. interdependency

As Carliss Y. Baldwin and Kim B. Clark in their volume of The Power of Modularity indicated, there is room for innovations to be made even when the basic structures remain the old ways. When we take the evolutions of iPhone throughout the decade, for example, this statement rings true. Every generation of iPhone has not been a makeover compared to the last one – that comes with a cost, but by means of improving individual module and as such, it maximizes the functions of an independent system and the artifact working as a whole, therefore, seems renovated. In my opinion, this proves what interdependency means to a device and its further developments. Even though the modules within stay relatively independent, by making certain adjustments, the utilities could be bettered to the extent the systems are designed to achieve.

If modules were designed to be interconnected with several other ones that each performs unique functions, both the process and the ramification could be problematic. During the production process, two or more modules are intertwined to enable an independent module to multitask, not only does it complicate the procedures and increase the costs of software maintenance, but further, highly likely that more interfaces would be required as more modules are connected, in which sense the interdependency would be jeopardized. It much resembles the circuits within a household, if the circuits were placed in series, the wires have more interfaces had they been placed in parallel. In this case, when a lightbulb goes out, the whole house would be simultaneously out of light.

Waze, a GPS navigation application available on mobile devices exemplifies interdependencies as well as interdependencies between the modules hidden in the black-boxed artifacts. Like other navigation apps, Waze provides basic real-time locating and navigating services, including searching for destinations, estimating drive time, automatic rerouting if there are more efficient alternatives. While using this app, you can lock your screen if feeling distracted, the application does not go into hibernate mode as it cuts off the electricity runs through the module that controls the screen, while the application is still running and collecting real-time data.; The “history” option related to the storage module also processes data when you put in an address on the search bar if presumably electricity and network are guaranteed.; With the audio indicator, without having to stare at the screen, you can get an idea of what distance remains before you should make a right or left, where there is road construction and traffic jam ahead, etc. Audio is also responsive when the screen is locked, this could not have been realized if the modules involved were highly dependent on one another.; Perhaps the most fascinating feature of this application is the crowdsourcing approach to gather information from users, users can easily report a traffic accident or a police trap, the steps are as simplified as it could get, no descriptions or code commands needed. By clicking the orange button in the lower right and select the graphics that pop up, the data is collected and shown on every other user’s application interface.

In making the modules interconnected, the sum of functions, or the power of reorganization could be significantly enhanced.; Lines should be drawn, however, between each module and how much they interact with one another so that the “individualism” could best serve the system and consolidate the usability and testability.

 

References:

  • Carliss Y. Baldwin and Kim B. Clark, Design Rules, Vol. 1: The Power of Modularity. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000. Excerpts. Read chapters 1 and 3 for this week.
  • Lidwell, William, Kritina Holden, and Jill ButlerUniversal Principles of Design. Revised. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2010. [Selections: Read Affordances, Hierarchy, Mental Model, and Modularity for this week.]

Concepts, Confusions & Misconceptions

I entered into the new week with more questions:

Is there a cascade network somewhere in the evolution of the Design concept?

 If I understood modularity correctly, then we are saying that all things exist as a combination of older things and so on and so forth. This perhaps would result in a cascading effect – and I used perhaps because, if it doesn’t, I would also like to know why. Knowing why would help me reconcile why I had to think of a cascade network in the first place and also check if this reflects an example of the misconceptions in Design terminologies from Week 3 readings.

It is telling how much ‘unlearning and learning’ to ‘Think by Design’ in this way can do to ones understanding of things. I have already had moments when I discovered the secret behind a particular technology and immediately lost the perception of magic attached to it – and there have also been times when my discoveries brought with it some excitement!

What does this conflict teach us about Design concepts?

The concept of modularity also highlights a significant relationship: Modularity in the design of products leads to modularity in the design of the organizations that produce such products Sanchez and Mahoney (1996). We are now studying two significant relationships that are directly proportional to one another – or more precisely, two relationships that are ‘orchestrated’ to directly impact one another, thus forming a community. This relationship is one between products and organizations that produce products. I have thought about how this relationship affects a significant variable like people and the affordances it permits the community to have people without inside knowledge of the workings of the community. It even feels like the birthplace of policies, regulations and market control/ price.

 Could this be describing the way people feel about the ‘Black Box’?

 From the text ‘Introducing Modular Design Principles’ I made an abstraction out of Prof. Irvine’s comments: “Though beyond the boundaries of our course now, we can gain an appreciation for the application of these ideas in many other fields”. We can see that by defining the boundaries of what is made available in Course A, we are creating an impression for what may consist of Course B – thereby creating conditions for curiosity (e.g. How are the learned concepts applied?) and the need to know (e.g. Explore a field where the concepts are appreciated and applied!)

Could this be describing desirability in Design Thinking?

1Community defined as a set in this text is; products and the organizations that produces them.

/ref

Martin Irvine, Introduction to Modularity and Abstraction Layers Pg 3&4

Lidwell, William, Kritina Holden, and Jill ButlerUniversal Principles of Design. Revised. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2010. ‘Hierarchy’ ‘Modularity’

Tackling misconceptions and confusions begins with defining concepts.

Modularity and Innovation

JUN NIE

After reading this week, I know that a simple interface hides complex modules and the intricate communication ways between them. The information asymmetry revealed by mental models will create a lot of problems between designers and users, which will interfere the progress of technology and innovative development of products.

The recent launch of the iPhone11 series confronted more skepticism than appreciation in China. Except for the dissatisfaction with the appearance design, most of the negative comments derive from lacking a thorough understanding of its innovative modules. While the product designers are well-versed in the updated parts of the system and technological breakthroughs, many laymen are left with a rough understanding given by social media. Generally speaking, there are two ways for most people to get information about technology products: one is the official advertisement, and the second is the personal interactive experience. The advertising video of iPhone11 highlights the ultra wide Angle dual cameras, water resistance, slofies, face ID, night mode and battery life, using adjectives such as “new”, “ultra”, “highest”, “faster” to distinguish its outstanding properties, but in fact these words can not quantify the difficulties of optimizing modules, developing technology and improving architecture during the innovation process. That’s why consumers felt difficult to differentiate the distinction of the iteration products. However, without buying new products, most people can not get direct  and deep using experience.

A good product is often based on a standard mental model, tested in the laboratory and observed in the field before launch. In this process, the user’s familiarity and dependence on the old product may restrict the optimization and innovation of the module. Although fixed and stable design rules create a good condition for upgrade, explicitness of the rules will also weaken the motivation for innovation. The promotion of a product may depend on the technological development of a certain module, but it is also driven by consumers’ demand. However, the current dilemma faced by Apple’s mobile phone is that consumers are satisfied with the service provided by the old modules and do not subjectively put forward higher expectation. Besides, although designers perfect some modules and interactive experience, the latest phone has been criticized because the combination of all modules have not brought a subversive experience to consumers so far.

Therefore, are modular design principles really conducive to innovation? Modularity allows designers to focus more on modules which have innovative potentials and avoid wasting time. Strong third-party competition can also promote the independent development of modules and  increase the overall efficiency. However, Apple’s performance in recent years seems to indicate that module innovation has not had enough momentum. Classic components and standardized design principles often make it difficult for products to make great changes, but the repair and improvement of details often fail to meet the elusive psychological expectations of consumers. Of course, it takes a long time to build up the technical competitiveness or recombine the modules, and it is not easy to soak in scientific experiments under the strong attack of competitors.

I want to have a further discussion about: What is the difference between “remodularization” and “recombination”? What kind of relationship they have with “innovation”?

Reference:
Lidwell, William, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler. Universal Principles of Design. Revised. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2010.
Richard N. Langlois, “Modularity in Technology and Organization.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 49, no. 1 (September 2002): 19-37.

How do Modular principles and systems interact with a graphical user interface?

Zijing Wang

Every successful product consists of module and system.  Modularity enables us to divide a large structure into separate element while the system provides modularity with hierarchical construction.

In <universal principles of design>, William pointed out several design principles including affordance, hierarchy, mental model, and modularity, to help me better understand the composition of smartphone.

Affordance is the capability of an object. When affordances meet with their designed functions, the product can achieve the goal quickly and efficiently, vice versa. Take charge interface of the smartphone as an example. All the smartphones’ charge interface is in the shape of a unique concave, which offer users only one correct position for plugging. Another point is that symbols on smartphones’ GUI are all imitated from common images. This help improve the practicability of a design.(see below picture from Apple official site)

Hierarchy structure make objects easy to visualize and understand. Smartphone commonly use a nest structure. Settings on smartphones are mostly nest structure because it can explain relationships between different functions as well as minimize the difficulty of using them.

Mental model only works when system models stay the same with interaction models. Products perform maximum functions only when designers gain precise predictions on users’ behaviors and expectations. Under this principle, the iPhone uses the same interface visual style and interaction in every product. When users switch between different products, it is easy to find the shadow of products that they have used so they can quickly adapt to the new product.

Applications nowadays have become essential tools in smartphones. Take Instagram as an example. It can take photos and videos, add different filters to photos, comment and like others posts, share locations, hashtag and recommend people you may know, etc. Under these functions, we interact with all kinds of modules. First, before we use it, we have to create an account, which uses the registration module. Then when we add filter on photos, we use LUT module. A LUT is a program that changes colors in one image to another range of colors. Next, when we add hashtag, we use hashtag modules. Moreover, the function “people you may know” use recommender system,a module base on the search history or mutual interests or friends.

How can interface take us beyond what we can see to all the invisible functions in a system? Firstly, I think users need to know all the necessary information and tools before operating the system. Secondly, designers should provide users with appropriate control and give them chances to learn to use the systems. Thirdly, people need to know every consequence of their actions and also take nearly no responsibility for making mistakes.

From my perspective, creating a unified action of an app its interface needs Familiarity and innovation. Familiarity means to provide users with a stable interface style and interaction. Innovation means observing users’ experiences and create new design to improve the system’s efficiency.

Sources:

Martin Irvine, Introduction to Modularity and Abstraction Layers.

Lidwell, William, Kristina Holden, and Jill Butler. Universal Principles of Design. Revised. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2010.

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

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

The Interface Design of NetEase Cloud Music

Xiebingqing Bai

NetEase Cloud Music is a Chinese music streaming app developed and owned by NetEase. It’s a very popular music app in China and has more than 0.5 billion users now. Its development and success are unique because when it was published, the market of music service is highly competitive and monopolized. Most people thought it couldn’t obtain great success at that time. But it finally found its own way to attract users and has become the leading application in music service market now, and one of its features is the extraordinary UI design which makes users feel so relatable and comfortable.

The framework of Could Music’s user experience derives from three aspects: customizing recommendation, dramatizing comments and socializing playlist. That made the app evolve into the combination of music app and social media. Instead of just being a music repertoire, it seeks to accent the concept of building your own music world and music community. And that underlying principle embodies in every aspect of the app design, including the whole architecture, interface, hidden information and banner design.

In general, this app has been divided into five modules, one for discovery, one for watching music videos, one for viewing my music list, one for joining the community and one for setting. Each module has very diverse affordances, but how to select the visible information is very essential. I want to talk specifically about the development of the home page interface , which clearly showcases how interface design could affect user experience. At the beginning in the recommendation part, the hottest songs and playlists are merely mixed with the customized recommendation, making users hard to distinguish which one is popular in the public and which is customized just for you.

Then NetEase made a modified version, and this modular operation splits the recommendation part into two separate ones, one is for hottest songs and another is particularly for customized songs. This version is more welcomed than the previous one.

But then comes another problem, some users complained that the overall content in home page is too little to fulfill their needs. Afterwards the NetEase divided the home page by different types of content to make diverse content more accessible. At that situation, the two-part recommendation was supposed to be changed because the page could be too dense to view comfortably. Then they combine the two part together again, but in order to highlight which playlist is customized, they put the recommendation reason on the top after user click on one playlist.

In this way, NetEase substitutes the previous module design by another comfortable one. This new interface design of home page last very long time, though there were also some small changes. This overall development of the home page design reveals that visible information serves as a guide and is significant to direct user to obtain the optimal experience in the app.

References:

Richard N. Langlois, “Modularity in Technology and Organization.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 49, no. 1

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

Modularity’s Importance in Functions and Innovation

After these weeks’ reading, I begin to look the devices around from a new angle. I focus on the design, their components and pay attention to how these devices interact with us. Only from a small smart phone, I could find many design principals behind it, such as affordance, feedback, conceptual model, hierarchy and modularity, which could also be applied to PC. All of these principals are important, however, in my opinion, the modularity is the most important one for the reason that it lay a foundation to help designers and engineers arrange a product’s various functions, apply modules developed by others and further save time in research and development and also express different functions in an understandable way. More importantly, products could be designed in a more flexible way.

Modular design principals cooperate with the design principals to offer us better user experience. Take one of the design principal feedback as an example. No matter what kind of smart phone you use, you will find that every time you use a function in a right way, you will get an immediate feedback and different functions have different feedbacks that achieved by different modules. For instance, when I lock my iPhone, it would utter a sound similar to that made when we close a door. When you turn up or turn down the volume, it would not make any sound but rather to show the change of volume by an image appearing in the center of screen. It’s reasonable to conclude that it’s the modularity help designers sort things out and give users feedback in different way.

From the example of iPhone mentioned above, we could imagine that behind these visible interface and buttons, there are multiple modules. Behind the volume control, it involves several different modules: touch control module, volume control module and obviously, a circuit board to transfer information and electricity. The thing surprises me more is that the complicated face recognition technology is added to iPhone X with a small chip. This small chip does not influence other functions and the size and weight of a phone. However, it improves our user experience dramatically. This small chip also reminds me a fact that the digital devices become more powerful, useful and smaller at the same time, which I always ignore before and I think modularity is the one of the reasons for it. The modularity lets every module develops independently so that the designers and engineers could control their size and functions in a more effective way, and also, they can collaborate better, although different module will work together finally. In this way, innovation could be achieved. This is exactly what mentions in Universal Principles of Design– modular design encourages innovation of modules.

 

The chip STB600B0 is an Iris Recognition module, which uses for facial recognition.

 

Recitation:

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

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

Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves. New York, NY: Free Press, 2009.

Lidwell, William, Kritina Holden, and Jill ButlerUniversal Principles of Design. Revised. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2010.

Modularity in Product Development and Interface Design

Xueying Duan

Apple’s Innovation Intelligence

Apple released its first iPhone in 2007, no earlier than other smartphone producer. At the beginning of its occurrence, it creatively renovate its touchscreen rather than traditional physical keyboard and stylus, which was monopolized by Blackberry, Motorola and so on at that time. Nonetheless, Apple was seen as a design company at first that the first iPhone, we cannot deny, has lots of defects compared to other companies, like poor internet connection, lacking substantial function and a high price an so on. The user experience towards the touchscreen nowadays has confirmed its success in this innovation. iPhone has met people’s demand to use personal smartphones as a microcomputer which is easy to control and switch between applications smoothly. Its affordance has satisfactorily “correspondent with its intended function” (Lidwell, William, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler. Universal Principles of Design. Revised. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2010.). We then look at the newly-released iPhone 11, as Apple mentions on iPhone’s webpage, “Just amount of everything” encapsulate this new version appropriately. The dual-camera system enables users to take a photo from wide to ultra-wide at the same time save the most detail of an enlarged photo, a new screen with better display technology improve the speed of facial identity and optimize the screen-looking. Other improvements in its camera all meet modern people’s daily demand for taking photos and shooting videos. As we look deeper as iPhone’s design module. It combines hundreds of function in one 13-inch box. Instant communicating with a receiver and a speaker, portable camera and an online personal album, digital wallet which enable us to pay without a physical credit card, music player as an iPod which can be connected to an earphone, maps and GPS, and most importantly, high-speed which is the base of mass online applications which satisfy our daily needs from all perspectives. We can also see the interaction between each modules: We adopt camera inside our social media that allows us to take photos or scan QR Codes; We insert maps and GPS when we’re calling a taxi or discovering restaurants or traveling guidances around us; We can even transform data between applications…As more and more applications share the same design logic and principle in their basic construction, the user experiences are also highly homogenized that lead to a better interacting experience, which also accords with the conformity principle in the design rule.

Modular principle in GUI

If we compare the computer system or a smartphone or any machine as a whole factory, integrated system, different applications or different functions can be compared to the machines as subsystems under the control of the factory. As the whole factory is a quite complicated system which owns millions of different modules to control different functions. Some of them may be independent of each other, but many of them may be adopted by several different machines. So in order to better organize them and watch their performance, designers divide them into different subsystems which control several elements and works as a whole to perform some functions. Therefore, an application was made and was represented with a specific graphical interface to distinguish and present their function. Also, the design of GUI also provides both the application designers and users with a standard for better regulating the aesthetic of the screen.

Module Analysis in RED—a social media and e-commerce platform

RED, also known as Xiaohongshu, is a mobile application in China as a community for users and some KOLs to post and share their product reviews, travel blogs and lifestyle stories via short videos and photos as well as an e-commerce platform. Basically it consists of 4 parts: the Front Page as the main sharing platform and are divided into My Following, Discover and Nearby to see people in different classifications; RED Mall which sells international products; Messages where users can interact with others and the Personal Profile page. This application is made to form a closed loop that users watch reviews, purchase items and produce their own contents.

On the Log in page, user can choose to create a new account which connect to his/her phone number, or they can just log in with their social media account (including Wechat, Weibo and QQ) as the app can find who is using RED from your friends on other social platforms. And the Share option also enables users to share with their friends on the former media. As a sharing platform whose main reviews are proposed with photos or videos, this app allow user to take photos or shoot videos from there camera or just choose from the album, it also has the function to record and publish a story by sliding to the right (similar to Instagram stories); It can also allow Users to discover posts from nearby users which adopt the location service of this smartphone; The accurate content distribution function is based on the big data algorithm which collects users’ reviewing habit. (BTW, I sometimes notice that it is also collecting my “words” from the microphone and messages sent on other platforms. For example, if I talked with my friends that I want to go to NYC next week and RED will present me with the recommended food, hotels, travel reviews in NYC on the same day. I guess it is quite common in many apps nowadays but it is also an interacting example on how this app links with other modules on the same phone to maximize its function). Products user view or those on the same categories will also be displayed on the RED Mall, which involves external payment method and delivery services. The message page allows users to check if anybody “likes” or “archive” their posts and they can also chat through a chat window.

From my perspective, The development of RED is actually based on several previous applications which share some similar functions. As Richard N. Langlois described in his Modularity in Technology and Organization, each module is independent but interdependent. I regard many modern functions which are quite sophisticated as public modules and what inventors do is to rearrange them in a new “box” to meet different demands, like what an Architecture Innovation mentions. Product Managers research on users’ psychology characteristics and behavior characteristics to design the most comfortable and effective interaction patterns, which may include the eye-movement habits of an interface, color preference, communicating demands, etc. What present on the “interface” of an application is just one final result from the whole design process out of many. There may be thousands of times failure on testing the cooperation of these independent modules, and it finally works together when it fits users’ habits.

References:

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

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

https://www.apple.com/iphone-11/

Modularity: the “Survival Philosophy” of Technologies

If a complex system is a society, the sub-systems or modules are the citizens of that society. The importance of modular design principles to the society of technologies are as the importance of law and social structure to human society.

For me, the combination of design principles and graphical user interface in the design of PC gives users a brief guide of “how different elements in the system perform with the larger one”, which further reduces users’ difficulties of operation and promotes their using experience by exposing more simplified and characterized information to them. The similar rule can be also applied to the design of software applications. Interface is like a filter, it discards complex information, and leaves the essential ones for users; meanwhile it is like a microscope, bringing invisible parts of the system in front of users’ eyes. In order to design an app which looks unified on its interface, all modules, including the invisible parts, of the app have to function well. I will use Apple music to elaborate my point of view.

“Modules should be designed to hide their internal complexity and interact with other modules through simple interfaces”. Take PC for example, the graphical user interface teaches users how different modules, that is functions, of the computer work in a clear and intriguing way. On one hand, GUI “hides” complex things, from “rooms of vacuum tubes, programmed via switchboards…”, to “piles of chips”, and to thousands of confusing coding, behind the monitor, and presents users an organized interface. It turns a complexity to simplicity. On the other hand, GUI serves as a guide, helping users visualize the modulation of PC by icons, tool bars, columns etc. From the graphical user interface, users can tell the function of each module, which echoes the aim of modular design principles: labor is separated clearly among modules. One function cannot affect another. For instance, downloading one more application, say photoshop, to PC will not affect the use of preexisted application, say the mail box. Also, the malfunction of one application will not disrupt the running of the whole system. For Mac Book, when the photo reader does not function, there will be a little rainbow circle appears inside its window, but users can still use Safari. What is more, the GUI surprises and delights users by fulfilling their “whimsical desires” for computers. Users are satisfied by the resolution of the retina monitor of mac book pro, while the electronic circuits and other small assemblies behind the screen will not interest them at all.

In order to design an appeared unified interface, there are two basic rules that need to be followed: one is to keep the interface as simple and clear as possible, as Parnas indicates, “Its interface or definition was chosen to reveal as little as possible about its inner workings” ; the other one is to make sure that each module works well independently and “communicates” with other modules properly. Apple music is a music software. Based on what Baldwin talks about, the operation of Apple music involves two categories of information: visible information and invisible information. The user interface is visible information. The three elements of visible design rules are intertwined in the design of this app. The architecture of the app is the presentation of its functions. It includes a list of “playlists, artists, albums and songs”, photos and names of the albums, and the navigation bar consists of “Library, For you, Browse, Radio and Search”. The hidden information is the hidden design parameters. Users can only reach those hidden parameters through visible modules. There is some hidden information that are not open to users but to app designers. For example, the “For You” function as a whole is a visible information for users, but the background operation of this function is an invisible information. This is because For You can monitor songs and albums users played recently and make recommendations for them. If a user likes Luis Fonsi, For You will recommend playlists of Zedd, Marron 5 and other similar singers. For You also has the friend finding function by connecting to Facebook and contacts. These all requires the connection to the internet. Alteration of such information will affect only the system of For You, but will not trigger any changes in distant parts of the application, such as Library. The Search page has a function named “Recent”, which records what users recently have searched. The Search page also has a function named “Trending”,right below “Recent”, which puts everyone’s recent search together and come up with a ranking. This is an embodiment of how modules work both independently and compatibly.

To sum up, modularity makes the design of a system organized and user friendly.

Citation:

Baldwin, C. and Clark K. (2000) “Design Rules, Vol. 1: The Power of Modularity”. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press

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

Lidwell, William, Kritina H., and Jill B. (2010)Universal Principles of Design”. Revised. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers

Modularity and Convergence

It seems that that the stories of modularity in design and convergent designs share a great deal of similarities and provide a fertile ground for pushing the concept of modularity to its conceptual limits. Baldwin and Clark might sum up modularity by the maxim, “independent but interdependent.” In other words, just as in the story of Hora and Tempus, the parts do not depend on one another in a cumulative, linearly ordered fashion, per say, but instead, are each constructed as interchangeable and self-contained systems which then construct the larger system of the final design. Convergence, on the other hand, involves taking pre-existing systems and designs, and incorporating them into different (either new or pre-existing) systems. The modern car might be thought of as a commonplace example which contains both modularity and convergence — although Langlois is quick to point out that the original Model T was not exactly the paragon of modularity. I find the engine of a car to perfectly typify the principle of modularity, as this sub-system is by all accounts entirely essential for the functionality of the car, while the engine “module” still might be upgraded or downgraded within the designed system of the car. Even if the car in toto fails to be rigorously identified as a modular system, an engine certainly can be thought of as a modular component as its independence from and interdependence to the system define the nature of its design at large.

The car also demonstrates the principle of convergence in, say, the installation of the radio on the dashboard. Unless you drive a vehicle designed by some sort of technomasochist, your car probably still works when the radio cuts out — in other words, the radio and the car are not interdependent in the same way as the car and the engine. But the radio still seems to possess some modular qualities. For example, the car radio is specifically designed for a car, meaning that a car radio and a “non-car” radio are not quite the same thing. They may both serve the same end function of channelling signals cast over radio waves, but one is designed so as to connect with the speaker system on the interior of an automobile while the other is not (among other ways which exemplify the imbrication of the design of the car and the car radio). In this way, there seems to be a level of interdependency between the car radio and the car, albeit in one direction only — from the car radio to the car. To complicate matters further, car radios, like modules, might be upgraded or downgraded and therefore frequently subscribe to the same design specifications so as to make them interchangeable. What this also implies, however, is that the specifications of different car models themselves be designed according to even banal specifications such as depth and width so that the radio, even while non-essential to the car as a designed system, might achieve a level of pseudo-modularity.

As more and more technologies begin to be designed according to the principle of convergence, to what degree can designers or design theorists consider convergence to be different from modularity? Does modularity require interdependence from both the module and the system, or might it only require interdependence in a single direction? In other words, must a feature or function be essential to a designed system in order for it to be a module? Of course, the case of the car and car radio is a relatively simple example, however, it seems likely that this ambiguity remains relevant in more complex examples, including software design. Ultimately, I’d like to know whether the difference between modularity and convergence has to do with anything other than architectural structure (modularity) and utility (convergence). Is the difference between the two anything more than superficial?

Works Cited:

Baldwin, C. and Clark K. (2000) Design Rules, Vol. 1: The Power of Modularity. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press

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