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What is Modular Design?

 , updated on August 21, 2016
Modular design is a design approach that creates things out of independent parts with standard interfaces. This allows designs to be customized, upgraded, repaired and for parts to be reused. A well know example of module design are LEGO plastic construction toys.
Non-modular design is any design that is difficult to customize or repair at home. For example, many electronics are intentionally designed so that they must be repaired by the manufacturer.

Modular vs Non-modular

Modular designs tend to have benefits for customers and sustainability as they allow for reuse and incremental upgrades as opposed to replacing an entire unit. In many cases, a culture of do-it-yourself customization will evolve around designs that are highly modular.
Non-module designs may have commercial advantages for the manufacturer as it encourages people to replace units as they can't be easily upgraded.


Module designs depend on standard interfaces between parts. For example, LEGO blocks are designed to fit together.

Poor Interfaces

Historically, many module designs were unpopular because interfaces were too difficult to use. In theory, personal computers were module as you could upgrade things such as memory. However, the interfaces never worked well and required obscure technical skills. Generally speaking, modular designs fail when parts don't fit together easily.
Overview: Modular Design
TypeDesign Thinking
DefinitionDesigns with independent parts with standard interfaces.
ValueCreating a culture of customization.
Allowing other firms to contribute to your products.
Reuse & sustainability
Incremental upgrades
Related ConceptsDesign Philosophy
Design Considerations


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