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What is Modular Design?

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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.
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.

Designed Obsolescence

Non-module designs may have commercial advantages for the manufacturer as it encourages people to replace units as they can't be easily upgraded. This is known ad designed obsolescence.


Module designs depend on standard interfaces between parts. For example, shelves that can take different components such that they can be reconfigured in countless ways.

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
Designs with independent parts with standard interfaces.
Creating a culture of customization.
Allowing other firms to contribute to your products.
Reuse & sustainability
Incremental upgrades
Related Concepts
Next: Design Philosophy
More design principles:
Ban The Average
Design Principles
Design To The Edges
Essential Complexity
Form Follows Function
Genius Loci
Input Is Error
Least Astonishment
Least Effort
More Is Different
More Is More
Negative Space
Truth To Materials
Worse Is Better
More ...
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