Consider the Rent Economy

I suspect the “Rent Economy” is upon us — as a new type of economic growth or as a major subset of our current Experience Economy. I’m not an economist, but I do feel like a designer does have enough of her ear to the ground to be able to make these kinds of statements. After all, we design the visuals, tangible products, mobile apps and services that everyone uses. Design is intrinsically linked to business — and where business is headed is where design is headed. I notice that so many businesses are geared to help people have the best possible experience — specifically though renting.

It seems like you can rent just about anything these days — there are Bird Scooters or Jump Bikes you can pick up and ride for a moment. LeTote, Prime Wardrobe, and (my fav) Rent the Runway for your endless, rotating wardrobe. Airbnb, FlipKey, VRBO and countless others let you feel like you own many vacation spots. You can rent yourself out as a cabbie through Uber and Lyft. Let others pay you for use of your car, bike, surfboard, office desk with GetAround, JustShareit, Spinlister and Sharedesk. Lend (rent) your money with UpStart and Prosper. Heck, I just Googled and found that you can rent a friend for that next awkward wedding through rentafriend.com! Rent a shopper/delivery person through InstaCart. And soon, West Elm and Rent the Runway will team up to let you have your next comforter, couch, or other home item for the time it takes for it to go out-of-style.

What is the Rent Economy?

First, let’s look at our current Experience Economy, coined by Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, which is where “businesses orchestrate memorable events” for customers. Before this, services and tangible items were most valued — where today success is defined by the experience the product/service provides. A Renting Economy is where businesses understand the need for rapid changes in consumer tastes and/or understand that people want the freedom to experiment through trying instead of buying.

Why should I care as a person?

Is everything is more rentable because people are more Buddhist and feel the impermanence of their own lives? Probably not. But it could be because we have a very mobile populace, not tied down to their birth place like previous generations. Perhaps all of us are finally understanding their place in a larger ecosystem and society where ethics, environment, and consumerism unite? This is what I hope. Most likely, we don’t want to pay premiums for gear that we’re not sure we want to commit to — or we can’t afford to buy to our heart’s content.

You should care because it opens up new possibilities for you to free up your time and make money with items you own. Or it frees up your bank account and lets you have the ultimate experience that was previously not available to you because you couldn’t afford that gear or view. The Rent Economy helps to builds community, and that should be of interest to everyone as we face an epidemic of loneliness.

Why should I care as a designer?

As a designer, you need to stay a step-ahead to help people get what they want, need, and desire. Thinking about rentals may not affect who you design for right now, but perhaps soon you will see an avenue to help a business sustain through offering services for their customers through renting. For example, Bird Scooter pays you to charge their scooters overnight (you are renting out your electricity for reward points).

Designers will continue to be leaders and pioneers in business through advocating for users on product teams and through emerging disciplines like growth design and transition design that can harness the Rent Economy as an opportunity within their teams and businesses. We are often the hub of an interdisciplinary team which poises us to be pioneers and make suggestions that might be overlooked. This year, LinkedIn cites “Creativity” as the best skill to have — so be brave and use it on your team and notice how your users/customers might want to rent and not buy that next product!

On a personal note: I write this while lounging by the poolside at the apartment I rent in Scottsdale, Arizona.

By Charmaine Farber | AIGA CC President
Published April 29, 2019
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