By Jovin Cronin-Wilesmith, Stem Co-Founder & Design Director

Stem’s application and dashboard have a clean, easy-to-use interface

Building a product that people enjoy and feel comfortable using is no easy task.

At Stem, we believe that in order to strengthen the creator ecosystem, we must set out to make the most effective product possible for the creators, managers, agents, accountants and assistants that use it. Users are the key to our business, and that’s the truth.

Without users, Stem would not know the pain points creators face when getting paid for content. We know that parsing through data can be cumbersome and that numbers can be confusing. We also know that teams operate the best when everyone has a clear understanding of the tasks at hand, and the data that goes along with them. This is why the goal of our product is to be straightforward.

A complicated product yields disinterest from the customer.

Think about it: if you had the option to go to a bank that was concise, easy-to-use and effective, would you ever choose a bank that was more complicated or difficult to understand? Being straightforward is a simple mantra that applies to the Stem product, and it goes a long way. When our product is straightforward and easy to use, our users can effortlessly understand their overall financial picture and know when things are on track or when they need to make a change. Because of this, they are enabled to focus on what’s most important: creating great content.

The Problems

Currently, Stem is part of a developing creative tech market where there seems to be a tool for every possible process besides the payment and accounting layer. As I see it, there are several issues with the limited product offerings in this market.

1. Artists are not given an accurate mental model of how payments work.

It is almost impossible to understand how to get paid as a creator, and this is a huge problem

Traditionally, users would be inclined to believe that their content is making as much money as it should be, when in reality, it is not. The disconnect between what a creator thinks is happening financially and what is actually happening is a driving challenge for us at Stem that we intend to resolve.

2. The status quo of existing products is inefficient and complicated.

The current options for creators’ payments & data do not offer a way to clearly understand one’s financial picture

Even if existing current products were providing data to their users, the data is not providing clear insights and takeaways for users. Because, let’s face it, one million-line CSVs do not immediately translate into insights. In effect, the current paradigm is not straightforward.

3. Current products are impersonal, causing users to feel abandoned and voiceless.

No one enjoys feeling like they’re talking to a computer

This indifference can manifest in a myriad of ways from explicit power plays by labels and multi-channel networks, or by technological inefficiencies. As a creator, if you asked your label to explain their payouts to you, would you walk away feeling like you have a clear understanding of your earnings? The resulting effect tends to leave creators asking, “Is anyone listening to me?”

Stem is, and we’re here to help.

How Stem Can Fix Them

Stem believes that our straightforward approach will help solve current issues by:

  1. Creating a clear mental model for content payments.
  2. Leveraging user performance data into practical insights.
  3. Helping users feel heard.

Creating a clear mental model on the payment & accounting layer

“Mental models, as the name implies, are the conceptual models in people’s minds that represent their understanding of how things work.”

— Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things

When I ask our users, “Do you get paid for the content you have made?” the answers range from: “Yes, but it is from multiple different services,” to “I would not even know where to start,” to flat out “I don’t know.”

From these responses, it’s obvious that users do not have a clear mental model and as Stem’s product owner, my goal is to make sure that users get the clarity they deserve. This is where Stem reinforces straightforwardness.

In order to adjust our user’s mental model, we help our users learn what is actually happening in the creative ecosystem once content leaves their hands. Stem provides users with an easy-to-understand breakdown of earnings by platform for each piece of content. By doing this, we empower our users to learn about earning timelines and the correlation between earnings and streams, thus helping them gain a more accurate mental model of their content’s performance.

With an effective mental model, users are able to make informed decisions based on facts and data rather than assumptions and guesses.

Turning our users’ performance data into practical insights

“If you torture the data long enough, it will confess.”

— Ronald Coase, Economist

Data is great, but too often, the sheer volume renders it practically useless. Even if users have access to it, it’s not valuable unless they have the means to analyze, dissect and deduce insights from it.

Our users need to be able to tell X content made Y money on Z platform last month and this information needs to be easily accessible and understood. Stem not only gives users access to raw data, we also tell the story of that data. For example, users can go into Stem and extract a direct financial picture of their content.

Helping users feel heard

“If we want users to like our software we should design it to behave like a likeable person: respectful, generous and helpful.”

— Alan Cooper

Users want to interact with products that feel human. A great product has two-way communication and a short feedback loop, thus ensuring that users never feel neglected.

At Stem, our first step towards creating this user dialogue began with our Artist-In-Residence (AIR) program. With this program we have a simplified our feedback loop and helped inform actual product decisions. With our current AIR, Kiran Gandhi, we literally sit down and walk through the product with a real user several times a week. By taking the time to hear a user’s thoughts, we can extract and differentiate the user’s needs from the user’s wants, and deliver them in a straightforward fashion — thus ensuring that we build a product that truly solves their problems.

On the straightforward path

Here at Stem we’re on the straightforward path of creating the most effective product possible. Our focus is simple: make it about the user and make it great.

Stem listens to users and innovates within the market to drive exceptional user experience and value-add insights. By creating accurate mental models, users can rest assured that they are making informed decisions based on facts and data rather than misguided guesses and assumptions. Empowering users to leverage insights into real financial gains while simultaneously providing a seamless interface is about as straightforward as it can get, and that’s the way we like it.

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