The Membership Puzzle Project

Illustrating a memberful public research project

The top problem facing public service journalism has been the same for over a decade: the collapse of outmoded business models and the search for a sustainable path. At first, it seemed that as readers moved online and the news went digital, the ad dollars would follow. Now we see that the big digital platforms – Facebook and Google – are capturing most of that money because they own the data that allows for better targeting. Clickbait, ad blocking, invasive tracking, and fake news only add to the misery – and all take their toll on reader trust.

A route towards sustaining journalism

The membership puzzle project was founded by Jay Rosen of NYU and De Correspondent in May 2017; what was supposed to be a year-long research project turned out to be four years spanning across six continents. Journalism platforms were monitored and subsidized by grants from the MPP to gather data on membership models. The ultimate goal being to highlight the importance of membership as a route toward sustaining journalism platforms. Meanwhile, our role was to help humanize the data.

Designing meaningful member experiences

True to the name of Membership Puzzle Project, the puzzle of membership is perhaps in implementing it. As an agency, we embraced the memberful view and set out on decoding the puzzle. Helping organizations create memberful experiences, then, became our specialty. Be it our design philosophy or the seven elements to creating a memberful organization: both were built upon research done by MPP and the evolution of De Correspondent.

Adding a human touch

Given the founders of this project, we intended to base the design of MPP on the two organizations; De Correspondent’ iconic red, and the purple from NYU - contributing to its brand identity. Of course, such 'loud' colors may appear to be the polar opposite of cultivating calm, but our design actually does the latter with the goal of humanizing the content: making it less about data and more about people. The illustrations also contributed to the 'human touch'. After all, the point of member experiences is to recognize that we are interacting with humans. The logo was inspired by a well-known puzzle: the Tangram. It resembles the project's complexity, that smaller pieces - representing the members - can be combined to create something bigger and more meaningful.