Should UX designers advise on revenue models?

Peter JonesInformation Ecology, Innovation, Transformation Design

Following up on “The Affordable Content Ecosystem.” There are huge opportunities for macro-design that should not be let go without a fight. Essentially, Jaron Lanier’s argument leads to the consideration that our “free web” has become a “free market web” that works for big guys, the content providers, but not for little guys, the artists and inventors. It was not designed that way, it is ecological, as my friend Tarver in Toronto says, “Things are the way they are because they got that way.” Media companies have the footprint to carve our niches in the content ecosystem. As individuals we do not. But as design thinkers, maybe we do, in the form of influencing service design, and something we might call “design for a monetary interaction system.”

Ten years ago J Nielsen predicted and advocated for micropayments, and we all know that did not happen. Perhaps the idea was insufficiently designed and tested. The ecosystem was never seeded with a workable model that could be evaluated over uses and iterated over time. Radiohead’s recent foray into a pay-what-you-can model with In Rainbows showed mixed success – the sheer level of music that “wanted to be free” was overwhelming, and they wound down the experiment. Few bands are as rich as Radiohead, so its unlikely that model will be tried again. However, the mere existence of a micropayment model would make it possible for artists and media companies to try out a wide range of incremental or micro-payment methods. But no large organization wants to be first to break their current business model, even if they barely work in the new era.

Designing a content ecosystem is not like a complex engineering project. It is more like a community agriculture project, requiring numerous patches of cultivation that are tended over seasons and nurtured against the elements and pollutants. As designers, many of us are beholden to the business models of our clients, and we are implicitly – or explicitly – engaged in helping them maximize the impact of their current business model with design thinking. Even if we have evidence that it doesn’t work well. But we somehow believe we can design “experiences” but not “revenue models.” Would it not create a significantly different brand interaction if we considered the revenue system part of the design ecology? How can user experience design influence the reasoning around the value propositions for monetizing content providers?