The opposite of a unitasker

Each Wednesday, Unclutterer features a unitasker: something that serves a single purpose that could be handled just as easily with a multi-purpose product. These unitaskers are always good for a laugh.

But many single-purpose products are designed to do a single thing very well, and there’s no reason to avoid them. Love to make a wonderful cup of coffee first thing in the morning? You’ll probably want a good coffee maker.

In other situations, dual-purpose products can work well and save space. For example, I have a Switchit silicone spatula that I find quite useful.

But sometimes owning a dual-purpose (or triple-purpose) item means you have something that serves two or three purposes, but doesn’t handle any of them particularly well. I thought about this when listening to a podcast that ridiculed the Nostalgia Family-Size Breakfast Station.

In this case, it seems that the product was simply a poor match for the podcaster’s situation. Many purchasers on seemed to really like the breakfast station for use in campers, dorm rooms, etc. But it’s not the right product for someone who is focused on getting a really good toaster.

The distinction between expert (or demanding) users vs. more amateur users seems to be a key when picking some multi-use vs. single-use products. Australian Hardware Journal has an interesting article on how this plays out in the hand tool and power tool markets. The article notes that there have always been combination tools such as the Leatherman multi-tool and the Swiss army knife, but now manufacturers are also developing power multi-tools.

Multi-tools are getting better, too. Andrew Miller, new product development manager for the Apex Tool Group in Australia and New Zealand, said:

The successful multi-tool systems are able to add functionality without compromising on the performance of the primary task. Separate attachments which can be misplaced are a big negative so minimising attachments is the way forward.

But Miller also noted that unitaskers have their place. “Single purpose hand tools still dominate the market because more often than not, they perform the task in the most efficient way,” he said. And Jamie Costello, national sales manager for Einhell Australia, said, “Professionals are more likely to prefer a specialist tool.”

Consumer electronics is another arena where the multi-purpose vs. single-purpose choice arises. Do you want an e-reader like the Kindle or would you prefer a tablet like the iPad that lets you read books and do much more? It will depend on which reader you prefer, how much you’d use the device for more than just reading — and of course, the price. Do you want a point-and-shoot camera, or is the camera in your cell phone all you need? Reasonable people will come up with different answers.

So when considering the purchase of a well-designed unitasker vs. a multi-use product, consider your needs and pick what fits your situation. Picked poorly, both unitakers and multi-purpose tools can become clutter. Picked wisely, both can be valuable purchases.

2 Comments for “The opposite of a unitasker”

  1. posted by K j on

    Haven’t seen one of these posts in around 8 months. Glad to see its still alive.

  2. posted by Julie Bestry on

    Great points, Jeri. I had to think about where I stood on this. My instinct was to assume that I NEED unitaskers (a flat-head screwdriver and not a multitool), and that I only WANT multitaskers. (For example, that breakfast station calls to me even though I don’t drink coffee, I almost never use my toaster, and I haven’t “griddled” in this centure. But it’s so cuuuuuuute.)

    Digitally, I find that I’m mixed with regard to taskers. I have an iPhone, and iPad, and an iMac. For me, the latter two are multitaskers, but after one full year, my iPhone is hardly ever used for more than my flip phone was — making calls and setting alarms. I like a big keyboard (or at least my iPad’s Bluetooth keyboard). I’m pushing myself to take more photos with the phone, but I miss the picture quality of my unitasking camera. For other areas of my life, I’m definitely sticking with unitaskers. I prefer my 30yo calculator to my computer.

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