The unsurprising survival of business cards

1 minute read

Despise and deride it all you like, but the business card remains a growth market. How has this 17th century technology not just survived but continued to flourish? […]
Bump was fast out of the gate, reporting 53 million users since its March 2009 launch, but a recent internal evaluation surprised its founders. The deep dive revealed that despite its design as a business product, it was primarily serving an after-hours function as a social tool.
— Bennett R. (2012) How Business Cards Survive in the Age of LinkedIn

“Surprised”? To find the survival of the business card surprising means not understanding human behaviour and interaction design as well.

Giving a card has many meanings: from the physicality of the card itself (have you ever played with one in your hand?) to the ritual of the handover (a strong social ritual), to the speed of doing that (handover, done!), to the visual design of the card itself (that’s a cool design!), to the collection part of it (did you ever flip through the cards you got after a day?).

If you want to “challenge” business cards with your product:

  1. it needs to be faster, or as fast as.
    Test it. If I can give a business card and take your faster than your app, I already win.
  2. it needs to be visually designed, branded, colorful, not just a line of data.
    You need to allow people to design their cards. There’s pride and “wow” in that.
  3. it needs to create a sort of ritual.
    This is more subtle, but you need to avoid technicalities. Create some kind of gesture maybe. An interaction. Bump does this pretty well, but maybe something less awkward would be nice.

Notice that “having to install the app” already hits 1 pretty badly. Yes, it’s fun at the beginning to try the new app and see how it works, but when the novelty goes away, you’re going back to cards again.

Technology alone can’t help here. Promising that aggregating the cards afterward in a better way, organize the data, setup the reminders and the call isn’t enough to balance out the three factors above. Promising a better long-term outcome over a higher initial investment is something difficult as human beings, otherwise gyms would be the best business ever. ;)

Nothing surprising.

And yes, it’s again about Proximity Interactions.