Angélica’s “The designs don’t exist…O_o” post is a good one, but a few words in particular stood out to me. I’m going to focus my entire post on the phrase that caught my attention, which, to be honest, doesn’t relate to the rest of her post at all. For some reason it fired a trigger in my brain; make sure to go read her post for her separate thoughts. Here’s the quote I’d like to discuss:

“…because at the end of the day, products sell (ughhh).”

My reaction to the last three words, or rather my lack of reaction, is what piqued my curiosity. At first read, I immediately agreed with the sentiment expressed – there’s something…distasteful about selling products. I carried right on to the end of the post, but something about that quote stuck in my mind.

It makes so much sense to me, that there’s something inherently nasty about the “market.” Our entire discussion last Thursday was predicated on the idea that the market/profit driven process is flawed in some way. If only we could design free of the pressures of the profit, we could unfetter our imagination of notions of commodification.

Why do we think this way about money? More importantly, why do I think this way about money?

Evidence of humans using items as a standard currency can be found dating back over 10,000 years. Coins were first minted around 700 B.C. in Lydia, India, & China (they all started doing it around the same time and separately). The Chinese first printed paper money in the 11th century. So, ‘currency exchanged for goods’ sure as hell is a persistent system.

And yet in our modern society, few ideas are more maligned – the acquisition of wealth is driven only by greed and the basest of desires. Many would describe the über-rich Wall Street Banker archetype as the ultimate arch-villain of our modern era.

Actually, there’s an easy answer to my question: thousands of years of abuse of monetary systems have created systematic distrust in the notion of currency and in those who make those systems their life’s focus. 

And yet nearly all of us are engaged in serious efforts to jump headfirst into this world of commodity and profit as professional UX designers & researchers. Am I required to swallow my discomfort and push my doubts aside about the very system that will support me and those I love for the rest of my life?

I think no. To me, the vilification of money is a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water, the tail wagging the dog, a few bad apples spoiling the bunch…(I’ve got more). Like, an iceberg we only see the most extreme end exposed above the water (told you I had more).

Yes, there are evil people with way too much money. Yes, our glorification of money and capitalism is a fucked up lens through which to view the world.

No, we don’t have to let ourselves subscribe to that worldview. This is what I choose to do, and I hope you will too. There is another way to think about money.

The things we will design will feed the coffers of giant corporations. But that ignores everything that happens between you designing something and the profits going to the bank.

Somewhere in there, a real live person decided to spend her dollars on your design. Her dollars didn’t appear out of thin air before she handed them to the cash register. They were earned at the office, on the delivery run, on eBay. And she only has so many dollars left – just as money doesn’t appear from nowhere, it also isn’t an infinite resource. Her decision to spend her monies on your design is a serious one. It may have been quick, and perhaps not well thought through, but the decision to purchase will have implications that will ripple through her life for days, weeks, perhaps years. And as it affects her, it also affects the purchased item and the system that created that item. Her purchase is like a stamp of approval. In a way, her purchase is a small piece of influence.

Just as “money is power” in large quantities, it is power in small amounts too. Small power, but power nonetheless. Don’t discount the small power those for whom you design will have.