5 Tips on Designing for the ‘Sharing Economy’ of Collaborative Consumption

Lada Gorlenko recently wrote a fascinating piece in Co.Design about how companies can take cues from successes like Zipcar, Netflix and AirBnB to go forward and design for the new “sharing economy.”

She defines this new culture by stating that ownership is changing and that people are less interested in owning products and accumulating wealth through long-term purchases and instead, crave experiences and seek out things without much of a financial or time investment. (Being smack dab in the middle of buying an apartment, I might beg to differ, but still, I saw her point and found it intriguing, so I read on.)

She cited Mackelmore‘s hit song “Thrift Shop,” as proof that people are increasingly interested in bargains and second-hand possessions and that we consume products and services through renting, sharing and subscription based purchases – collaborative consumption, as it’s being called.

Gorlenko asserts that businesses will need to reconsider distribution models that encourage shared ownership, as well as product lines that support multi-user product life cycles, in order to compete in an economy where consumers expect to have flexibility in their purchasing. Today’s collaborative consumption model is mostly about how the products are shared, not about how they are designed, she says. In order to bring the two together, companies must follow these five principles:


Define which products and services are best suited for collaborative consumption and which are better to be left as to the conventional marketplace. For example, it may seem that size matters; the smaller the product is, the easier it could be passed on to another user. Dig deeper and it’s not true if you consider, for example, shared car services such as Zipcar and Car2Go.

Software customization is relatively easy: Wipe it out, and it’s ready. How about customization of hardware, beyond changing covers and decals? If a new owner wants to change a particular module or add a peripheral, keeping the otherwise working product, how do we support it? Cars and homes may give examples of re-use and re-customization. But digital products still operate in the throw-away mode once an owner discards a product. There isn’t a sustainable model in place for recycling mobile phones or any other kind of electronics in the same way there is for paper and plastic products.] This makes them much less sustainable than they could have been otherwise.Two Young Boys (7-9) Eating Ice Cream Out of a Tub


When products change hands often, wear-and-tear is a big issue. What are the materials that will make products look new longer? What are the techniques for easy refresh, so that a product is more appealing to new users? How should design of a product change to accommodate new maintenance models?

Collaborative consumption stimulates concurrent usage among different users, such as when multiple users interact with a multitouch surface or similar interfaces. These interactions can also be parallel multitasking, in which multiple users interact with the same device doing different tasks. Consider a case where one user works on a PC directly while another accesses the machine remotely. Simul-tasking will require a lot of design innovation in order to tackle collective experiences.


Collaborative consumption creates a new system of credit, for both online and in-person sharing. Online interactions are particularly prone to questions about trust: How can you trust a vendor who isn’t completely traceable? Any bank that lends you money has access to your credit score. By contrast, you need to earn the same kind of trust from each and every online community; your LinkedIn reputation means nothing to Ebay. This ought to change very soon. If we want to support collaborative consumption, UX professionals have a huge role to play in figuring out trust verification and the very nature of online verification.

Read her whole article here and comment below with your thoughts on the topic.