Product Development was one of my favorite courses in business school. And one class I remember particularly well was when Prof. Robertson challenged us to a seemingly impossible task: improve on the design of a paper clip.
One would think that, having the paper clip design not changed in almost 150 years, it would be ripe for innovation, yet improving upon it proved incredibly challenging. We are, in fact, surrounded by objects and tools that, like the paper clip, resist unchanged in the face of phenomenal advances in technology, materials and computing. The business card is one of them.
There have been countless attempts at replacing the quaint paper rectangle with NFC-enabled devices, mobile apps, social applications, QR codes and more. Yet, even among technology professionals, the business card remains an essential business accessory.
- Universal interface. To transfer a business card to someone, you use your hands. Since (most) everyone has hands, there are no “interface interoperability” issues, so to speak.
- One gesture. It takes about 1.5 seconds and one gesture to hand out a business card to someone at a tradeshow. That ergonomic efficiency is hard to beat.
- Power-less. They work perfectly well in the absence of electrical power, when Wi-fi is down, Bluetooth is off, etc…
- Personality. Unlike standard app UIs, business cards convey the attributes of your personal and corporate brand. Choices of size, cut, weight, typography and content create, and communicate, personality with an immediacy otherwise impossible to achieve.
- Expectations. Business professionals the world over have been conditioned to expect to exchange business cards when they meet. The cognitive barriers in switching to a different behavior are phenomenal.
Next time you think about disrupting an established product category through new technology, it may be worth thinking long and hard why it has resisted change for so long in the first place.
Image by CieraHolzenthal/Flickr