Society is used to products that boast double, triple, or even more uses than the original design. Whether it’s 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner, or even a sofa bed, we often find that the results come out to be more like 0 in 1, as the product doesn’t do a good job at either of the uses it advertises. However, people are constantly striving towards attaining good value for their money, so they will try to cover as many bases as possible with the one thing rather than buy several individual items. It’s also a good way to minimize clutter, consume less, and create less waste.
So as you see, we are sort of in this Catch 22.
Is there a solution to this conundrum?
Modularity might be a worthy attempt at having the cake and eating it to, when factors like affordability, quality, and waste reduction come into play.
So what is it exactly?
Module: one of a set of parts that can be connected or combined to build or complete something (Merriam Dictionary, 2016)
Using modules in everyday life means that you consciously pick and choose the functions that you want or need and combine them or add them on to create your perfect appliance/accessory/piece of furniture/phone, etc. Without having to dispose of the original unit, we add on to it, exchange pieces, or take them away in order to always have the optimal version of the item.
To illustrate, let’s say that you live in a small apartment and you need a couch. You can’t fit one of those huge corner ones, so you get a standard 3 seater to start. You also need a stand-up mixer for your favorite hobby-baking. You decide not to buy the add-on collection, worth the price of the mixer itself which included a grinder, a mixer, a juicer, a pasta maker, etc. Let’s face it- you aren’t going to use it and you have nowhere to store it.
A year later and you bought a house. Your couch looks a little small in the large living room, so you purchase an additional module to the sofa, one that turns it into one of those cozy corner nooks. It was nice not having to buy a whole new couch, especially since you really like the one that you originally purchased. Oh, and in the meantime, you traveled to Italy and fell in love with the cuisine. Instead of having to buy a whole new pasta maker to enable your new interest, you buy the pasta module to your mixer. How nice is it to just add on this module rather than buy a whole new appliance?
This has become an even more interesting phenomenon in technology, where some small companies have started designing mobile devices which allow the user to control the design of their phone by switching different modules. Therefore, if you are big into photography, you can have a better camera and a bigger memory, whereas if you mostly talk on your phone, you can save money on the camera and swap it out for a better battery with a longer life. This is a huge split from where mainstream mobile devices are headed today- where you can no longer access the battery to exchange it, or expand the memory with an SD card.
If you like the idea of modularity, it’s not difficult to find in virtually every industry. Construction companies can increase their standard of safety by installing a modular freestanding guardrail design that requires no drilling into your rooftop. Carpets can be put down in squares and only the used ones are replaced when needed. Wristwatch straps can be changed when they don’t suit an outfit or have been worn out. There are thousands of examples of sustainable modularity- and it makes sense, both environmentally and financially.