Modular Design Is Not New
The idea of designing a product range that utilises key common components has been around almost as long as volume production. General Motors introduced its A and B bodies in the 1930’s, a common chassis and suspension design that was used under dozens of different car models from Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Cadillac brands over 3 decades. Sony’s original Walkmans used modularity to provide variety without the cost of developing large numbers of unique devices. Xerox has for decades designed for modularity, first in typewriters, then photocopiers, developing products that can be up or downscaled, and can reuse components from existing machines to reduce design costs and end of life waste.
Into the 21st Century
Limited modularity is currently seeing a rise in popularity in products of all scales. Fitbit exercise trackers are designed to have their straps easily swapped with an unending variety of styles. Ikea’s popularity continues, the consistent proportions of its storage units making it easy for customers to repair, reconfigure, or update the style of their wardrobe or kitchen for years after their initial purchase. Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras have recently made a large impact in the market. They utilise changeable lenses of common design interchangeable across multiple models and generations in a brand’s product range, much like classic SLR and DSLR cameras, but in a more compact, easier to carry format. Even house design is looking to modularity to reduce building time and cost.
Making modularity accessible
Bicycle riders have benefited from modularity for generations. Standardisation of wheel sizes, seat attachment, pedal mounts and bottom brackets allows for swapping and changing components to suit their style, terrain or budget with only basic tools. In our homes, taps and faucets fit to standard thread sizes and doors fit into standard openings. Desktops computers are incredibly modular, their cases are designed to take any number of motherboards and additional boards, RAM, hard drives and other components clip into place, and on-board software is flexible enough to recognise and adapt to hardware changes seamlessly. What if we could take this idea further, and introduce it to all products? What if we could empower consumers to easily make any product in our range perfectly suit their needs and budgets?
The humble microwave
Microwaves are largely standardised equipment and therefore an ideal candidate for modularity. Starting with a set microwave chassis (a shell could be included or various different colours or finishes could be offered as a slide on option), with power supply, turntable motor, and basic internal wiring connections. Various power microwave units could be installed into the back of the unit with a simple clipping mechanism, with any wiring integrated into the clipping installation. A range of doors could be hung with clip-in hinges, with finishes to suit different budgets and kitchen decors. The Control panel could push into place and offer anything from a single dial to a full colour touchscreen display. One base product, with a handful of modular components, could replace a dozen individual models.
By breaking a device into blocks of standard size, with simple fool proof assembly methods, we can design products which can last a lifetime and suit a user’s changing tastes and needs. For more details on how Bayly can improve the emotional and technological durability of a product, take a look at this article.