Modular design principles: ios and WeChat

For the first question, I will analyze how modular design principles applied in an iPhone as a smart phone with a graphical user interface. When an iPhone is awakening, people usually interact with five different interfaces: home page where all apps locate, control center where to adjust brightness, notification center, search and siri, and backstage of apps. Each of the interfaces can be seen as a subsystem, with many elements grouped into it, in order to manage the complexity of all these functions. Moreover, each of them works independently. For example, if the user pulls out the control center, although the page looks like floating over the home page, whatever the user operate will not has impact on the home page; everything is operated in the subsystem. Further, every time when Apple updated the ios, they had made small adjustments in each module, like using new icons for apps in home pages, changing the appearance of notification bars, and so on. They can make innovation in each module without impacting other ones. To sum up, it is a system in which the visible design rules are enabling—firm enough to encourage modular innovation and recombination—but loose enough not to be constraining to the evolution of the system(Graud and Jain, 1996).

For the second question, I will use WeChat as an example again. First, as an instant chatting app, in order to let the user to send pictures, documents, locations, or make a video or voice call, the app has to work with other related apps of the smart phone, like Photos, Camera, Files, GPS, and even some hardware of the phone, like the microphone and telephone receiver. In addition, it performs the same way if the user wants to post photos and videos to share with friends in Moments. Second, if the user receives a document in the WeChat, and wants open or save it in other apps, the WeChat will communicate with other apps in the smart phone, like Kindle, Word or Gmail. Third, now articles, videos, news and other contents published on other platforms (viewing from their apps), can be shared by the user to friends through WeChat.

In order to answer the third question, imaging that all WeChat functions, including chatting, sharing, WeChat pay and others, are all messed up in one page, it will be very hard for user to find which the exact function that he or she wants to use. Although everything is visible, it is difficult to interact. In the contrast, actually, WeChat grouped their functions in different modules with interfaces to communicate to each other. For example, now the user is browsing the first page (including all information about chatting), he or she cannot see the functioning of Moment (the name of sharing platform, on the third page). However, if there shows up a red dot with a number, he or she will know that there must be someone interacted with him or her. Then, the user can choose to use the function or not, of course it is easy to reach. Thus, the bottom bar with four icons can be seen as the interface which connects these 4 main pages. Although the number of visible functions in each page is finite, the interface can tell the user whether there is a state change. As a result, the user can easily to interact with each function at the right time.


  1. Richard N. Langlois, “Modularity in Technology and Organization.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 49, no. 1 (September 2002): 19-37.
  2.  Garud, Raghu, and Sanjay Jain. “The Embeddedness of Technological Systems.” Advanddes in Strategic Management  (1996): 389-408.