Category Archives: Week 3

IBM Cloud as a Modular Design

The first “truly modular” computer design was IBM’s System/360, a broad, compatible family of computers introduced in 1964, so it’s no wonder that IBM continues to make use of the modular design framework to innovate and bring about new services (Baldwin and Clark, 2000, 13).

A module is a unit whose structural elements are powerfully connected among themselves and relatively weakly connected to elements in other units (Baldwin and Clark, 2000, 63). IBM cloud services are offered as public clouds, private clouds and hybrid clouds (combining access to public and private clouds). The IBM Cloud is an integration of cloud services, products and services in the form of applications to manage these clouds and workloads, virtual servers, networks, security integrated to avoid hacks and leaks and data storage on their physical servers that can be accessed by companies remotely.

This solution works well for businesses based on the modular design of these cloud computing services. Each of the functions, applications and technologies provided in a cloud service package is composed of whose structural elements that are powerfully connected among themselves and relatively weakly connected to elements in other units (Baldwin and Clark, 2000, 63). This allows IBM to continuously innovate and add, remove and replace new products and services while maintaining the larger package.

The cloud consists of at least 6 distinct overarching service modules –  infrastructure, hardware, provisioning, management, integration and security. Each of these themselves have further modules that are setup in hierarchical structure (nesting elements in layers or levels) in complex systems as we head down each individual layer (Irvine, 2). Indeed it is because of this layering that many of modular designs work as it is the the process of organizing information into related groupings in order to manage complexity and reinforce relationships in the information. (Lidwell et. al., 2010, 95)

It is this modularity that allows for users to perform versatile operations such as building their own customised cloud environment. Without this built in modularity, separate applications could not be mixed and matched to do just as much as the user wants. There is no more need of  “extensive control” of all elements of a cloud design (Baldwin and Clark, 9). “Standalone” cloud designs are out and the modular cloud services that offers modularity on front stage as well as back stage is now in, allowing more flexibility for engineers, designers as well as clients.


References –

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

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

Martin Irvine, Introduction to Modularity and Abstraction Layers (Intro essay).

the Devil is in the Details: Apple’s User Interface

When I first read the readings for this week, I immediately thought of battery connections that I learned in junior school’s physics class. There are two battery connections, serial connection and parallel connection. In serial connection, there is only one current path so the current flows from the positive pole of to the negative pole. Therefore, if one part is damaged or disconnected, the entire circuit will be disconnected with no current, making everything stop working. Thus, in serial connection, everything is interconnected so either everything all works or all stops working. In a parallel connection, the current flowing from the positive pole is divided into two paths at the branch, and both path has current flowing. Therefore, even if one branch is disconnected or damaged, the other branch will still form a path with the main circuit. In this case, each branch is not interconnected and thus a modularity in the battery connection.

Now let’s look at my phone. I have an iPhone X and I purchased it two years ago and I have to say, this phone has served me very well. When it was first introduced by Apple three years ago, I was only intrigued by its evolutionary design and overall change, like the home button’s fingerprint sensor was replaced with Face ID plus all-glass design with super retina display. Yes, I got sold on this futuristic phone. Yet to my surprise, iPhone X’s user interface experience was even better. Every apple or iPhone fans might notice that all the iPhones and apple products share a highly unified design language and apple’s design details are always very amazing. For example, the Squircle. As seen blew, every apps and windows, from the first iPhone to the latest, share the same rounded rectangle designs. Especially with the coming of iPhone X, this design has been incorporated into the general shape and frame of iPhone X and all of the recent releases.

According to Clark and Baldwin, a good design needs to address information like, “architecture, interfaces and integration protocols and testing standards.” I think a good design should also be communicative. Let’s look at another example, iMessage. As you can see from this screenshot of mine, the background color of the text message bubble changes in depth – the earlier the message, the lighter the color.

When sending two or multiple messages in a row, the space between them is small and narrow (my screenshot). If there is an interval between messages, the upper and lower spacing of the text will become larger.

In my Apple’s interface experience, I saw various metaphors and hints, I saw the smooth experience brought by nonlinear animation, and I saw the process of carving details. This should be something that all designers continue to pursue, and what ultimately presents to users is an extra courteous experience.



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

Modularity and a Health Insurance App

Jalyn Marks

“According to some estimates, as many as 3 million students are covered through student health plans offered by colleges, universities, or other institutions of higher education. ” (Student Health Plans)

Each year, more and more graduate students have health insurance (Bauer-Wolf). Georgetown students have the option to purchase health insurance. The school partners with UnitedHealthcare, which has a dedicated website and app just for students: UnitedHealthcare StudentResources (UHSR). For a case study on modularity, or how systems have “interconnected subcomponents” (Irvine 1) whose architecture, systems, and standards (Langlois 22-23) work together to produce the desired effect of the design, I am going to use the UHSR iPhone app.

The UHSR app is an interesting case study because of the interplay between information contained  within the app, information housed by the users’ medical practitioners, information that the users generally accept to be true about the function of their bodies, and legal and social understandings of what it means to be healthy or sick in the United States. Including all of this nested information aims to encapsulate (Irvine 2) users’ health experiences and resources.

After logging in to the UHSR app, users are directed toward a Dashboard. The user’s name is displayed, along with their student IDs and email address. Options for where to go next include a “Need Care?” section, “Contact Us” section, a commonly used cog-icon to represent settings, and a”My Profile – view your profile” featured prominently in the middle of the page.

UHSR Dashboard

After logging in, students who use the UHSR app are navigated to this page.















Since I’m concerned with students accessing health services, I’m going to click on the “Need Care?” section, linked to an icon of a plus sign with a circle around it.

UHSR Need Care Section

In this section, users can select: Not Sure Where to Go?, Healthcare Provider, Mental Health Provider, Telehealth Medical, Telehealth Behavioral, and Student Assistance.















Language included on this page, like “telehealth” and “behavioral” assumes users share a definition for these terms. The language does attempt to be colloquial, including the interrogative question, “Not sure where to go?” which is fairly engaging. Each option includes an icon, a title and subtitle, and an arrow, which relies on the assumption that users are familiar with smartphones and know to click the arrow in order to progress to the next desired page.

If I wanted to find a doctor–any kind except one who specialized in mental health services–I’d click on the Find Provider section. This section implements a search feature, which includes some drop-down menus, autofill-technology, and GPS, where users can find doctors based on their specialty (assuming that users know what kind of specialist they need to find) and location.

UHSR Find Provider Section

UHSR users can look for doctors using metadata.














If a UHSR user needs to access a doctor immediately, there is a telehealth option. Tools nested into this design include accessing the phone’s calling feature or dial pad.

UHSR Telehealth Medical Page

UHSR users can call telehealth doctors 24/7.














Under Settings, UHSR users can select various options related to the legal information provided by UnitedHealthcare, including accessibility, privacy policy, terms of use, and the end user license agreement. None of these things are directly related to accessing health services, but are important context used to define the overall insurance system.

UHSR Settings Menu

Users of the UHSR app can access various legal documents under the Settings Menu.















The nested structure here is a connection to the phone’s web app, like Chrome or Safari. Once you click on the arrow, the UHSR user is navigated to a weblink.

UHSR Access Statement

The UHSR app’s access statement is a link to an external webpage, outside of the app.














Some additional thoughts on modularization and accessibility:

  • I am not a blind user, so I do not know how this app would engage with a screen reader. As a health insurance company, I would prioritize make sure my app could interface smoothly with accessible technology (AT) like screen readers (Screen Readers).
  • Since “modularity also informs recent theory on the philosophy of mind” (Irvine 3), apps–especially health-related ones–should be designed to meet the needs of non-neurotypical users, like autistic users, whose theory of mind might be different (Kapp and Ne’eman).

Works Cited

Bauer-Wolf, Jeremy. Obamacare Has Led to Fewer Uninsured Students, Study Finds, Inside Higher Ed, 30 Mar. 2018,

Kapp, Steven and Ari Ne’eman. “ASD in DSM-5: What the Research Shows and Recommendations for Change.” Autistic Self Advocacy Network, 2012.

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to Modularity and Abstraction Layers.” Unpublished.

Langlois, Richard N. “Modularity in Technology and Organization.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, vol. 49. no. 1, 2002: pp. 19-26.

Screen Readers, American Foundation for the Blind, 2020,

Student Health Plans, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services,

Modular Design Principles behind Netflix

Victoria Gomes-Boronat

Behind the graphical user interface (GUI) that you interact with when using applications, there are various unseen moving parts that work together in order to make seeing and interacting with that GUI possible. Various applications employ modular combinatorial designs, meaning that the architecture of the application is made up of various modules that have “interdependence within and interdependence across modules,” (Baldwin, 2000). This means that within each module are various interconnected parts, however they are independent of other modules, meaning that a designer can make changes and updates to one module without affecting any of the others.  A perfect case study for this modular combinatorial design is Netflix.

When I was a child, Netflix was a website service you can use in order to rent and have physical DVD movies delivered right to your door. Since then, Netflix has undergone drastic innovative changes and ushered in a new era of online video consumption. With 192.95 million subscribers worldwide, it’s no wonder that Netflix has become the blueprint for a successful modular combinatorial design.

\Why is Netflix so successful? Netflix was one of the first adopters of a cloud-based microservices architecture, (Smartbear Software, 2015). Prior to 2011, Netflix ran under a monolithic design, meaning that it was built as a single autonomous unit.  This presented many problems for the ever-changing and growing platform:

Monolithic structures make any changes to the application extremely slow as it often affects the entire system. It can require a completely rebuilt and deployed version of software whenever a modification is made to a small section of code. If developers wish to scale certain functions of an application, they must scale the entire application, further complicating changes and updates. (Watts & Shiff, 2018).

The solution to this problem was the modular principles of cloud-based microservices architecture, “Microservices, also known as microservice architecture, are a specific method of designing software systems that structures an application as a collection of loosely coupled services,”  (Watts & Shiff, 2018) The application is broken down into various components or “microservices” located in the cloud that are completely independent of each other, allowing each service to run its own unique process and communicate autonomously without having to rely on the other services or even architecture of the application as a whole. Does that sound familiar? That’s because microservices are prime examples of a modular design at work.

As Mak describes, microservices realize various important modularity principles such as design teams’ ability to work and scale independently; reduction in complexity by being small and focused; alteration and replacement of services without impacting other services or the architecture of the application (2017). Figure 1 (below) demonstrates the differences between the monolithic and microservice architectures.

Figure 1: Architecture differences between traditional monolithic applications and microservices. Image courtesy of BMC.

That being said, all of the functions that you see and interact with when looking at the Application, for example. the recommendation system, video streaming service (synchronized picture and audio streaming), subtitles/translations, download service/storage, category system, search bar functionality, etc. are all different modules/microservices that can be altered, updated, or removed without affecting the rest of the services.

There are also various microservices that you don’t initially see, such as algorithms that conduct data analysis, information sorting systems, and the acquisition of licensed streaming rights. In order to stream movies, shows, etc., Netflix must be licensed streaming rights by the original production companies/owners. Every movie/show that you see in Netflix’s arsenal had to have a team behind it that created contractual agreements for the streaming rights. Even “Netflix Originals” have many modules that make then possible. Few of the movies/shows that have been labeled as “Netflix Originals” are actually self-produced by Netflix, rather:

  • Netflix commissioned and produced the show
  • Netflix has the exclusive international streaming rights to the show
  • Netflix has co-produced the show with another Network
  • It is a continuation of a previously canceled show (Netflix picks up the production and distribution of the show)

-(Robinson, 2018)

The microservices can also vary by country. The Netflix you see in India might have a vastly different lineup of movies and shows than the one used in the United States. This is made possible only through Netflix’s modular design, and consequently, its modular organization. As Langlois explains, “products design organizations,” and “modular products call for modular organizations,” (2002)



Baldwin, C. Y., & Clark, K. B. (2000). Design rules. MIT Press.
Langlois, R. M. “Modularity in Technology and Organization.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 49, no. 1 (September 2002): 19-37.
Irvine, M. (n.d.). “The logic of managing complex systems with re-implementable models of interconnected components and abstraction layers.” Introducing modular design principles. Manuscript in progress.
Mak, S. (2017, March 24). Modules vs. microservices. O’Reilly Media.
Robinson, J. (2018, November 9). The Four Types of Netflix Originals. What’s on Netflix.
Software, S. (2015, December 8). Why You Can’t Talk About Microservices Without Mentioning Netflix. SmartBear.Com.
Watts, S., & Shiff, L. (2018, October 9). Monolithic vs Microservices Architecture (MSA) – BMC Blogs [Blog]. BMC.

The Complexity and Modular Design of Apple’s Health App

Mary Margaret Herring

In the readings from last week, Arthur elaborated on the concept of combinatorial design. He argued that new technologies were simply novel combinations of existing technologies (Arthur, 2009). Apple’s health app seems to exemplify this principle of combinatorial design by collecting data from a number of existing technologies and displaying it in a novel way. Apple markets the Health app as a repository for health data from a user’s iPhone, Apple Watch, and third-party apps that enables the user to “view all [their] progress in one convenient place” (Apple, n.d.). On the most basic level, the Health app uses the iPhone’s accelerometer to track steps (Capritto, 2019). However, users can extend the app’s functionality by connecting a number of other devices. Simply by adding the Apple Watch, the Health app measures things like the amount of time a user was active to their active and resting heart rate (Apple, n.d.). Even non-Apple products ranging from posture trainers to UV sensors can be paired with the app (Sawh, 2020). Finally, the app also accepts data from third-party apps such as MyFitnessPal or Lifesum which helps users track their daily nutrients (Capritto, 2020). The data collected from these devices is then displayed in graphical charts so that users can explore health trends in one place.

The Apple Health app's

Figure 1. The highlights page on Apple’s Health app (Apple, 2019).

According to Irvine (n.d.), modularity allows for the design of complex structures by dividing the system’s functions into separate, interconnected processes. The highlights page (Figure 1) simplifies the complexity of the system by displaying activity data collected from a number of sources in intuitive graphs. The phone, wearable technology, or third-party app supplies data to the Health app. The app then displays this information in a way that is intuitive to the user. It can also compare a user’s current activity levels or health data to past metrics and display this in an easy to understand chart.

In their characterization of modularity, Baldwin and Clark write that modules have “interdependence within and independence across modules” (2000, p. 63). To some extent, the Health app depends on the data collected by the accelerometer, third-party apps, and wearable accessories. However, the app can exist independently without input – although many of the functions would be lacking. The Health app also functions as a medical ID so that medical responders can access a user’s medical information if they are in an accident. But, like the activity and nutrition tracking features, this does not work without input from the user.

I have one question about this week’s readings. Baldwin and Clark discuss abstraction, information hiding, and interface when explaining modularity (2000, p. 63). I’m not entirely sure that I follow this line of thinking and would appreciate it if we could apply this to a concrete example in class.


Apple. (n.d.) “Health: A more personal Health app. For a more informed you.” Apple.

Apple. (2019). [The highlights page on Apple’s health app displayed on an iPhone] [Photograph] Apple Support

Baldwin, C. Y., & Clark, K. B. (2000). Design rules. MIT Press.

Capritto, A. (2019, April 18). The complete guide to Apple’s Health app. CNET.

Irvine, M. (n.d.). “The logic of managing complex systems with re-implementable models of interconnected components and abstraction layers.” Introducing modular design principles. Manuscript in progress.

Sawh, M. (2020, July 11). Apple Health guide: The powerful fitness app explained. Wareable.

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.