Case Study: Nothing Is Obvious

ON NOWIt’s easy to assume that some facts are self-evident when we create a product or experience. Even if logically we accept that nothing is obvious, it’s so easy to fall back on believing that some things are. Every now and then I encounter an example that shows me again how wrong that assumption can be. This time, it happened at brunch.

A woman sitting next to me brought out her American Airlines AAdvantage credit card to pay for her meal. Her friend asked to see it, since the design had changed. The friend casually mentioned something about how great it is that the card gets you preferred access.

“Preferred access to what?” said the card holder.

“American Airlines flights,” replied the friend.

“Oh, and free checked baggage!” chimed in another friend.


The woman who had the card mentioned she had been using it since the 1990s–a minimum of 17 years–and yet she had no idea that it gave her any sort of perks on American Airlines, despite the fact that it is an American Airlines card. Mind you, this woman seemed perfectly normal and it sounded like she travels quite a bit with her husband. I would definitely have assumed that the reason she’s been loyally using an American Airlines credit card for 17+ years had something to do with liking the travel-related benefits of the card, but I would have been wrong.

The woman’s friends and I all approached the situation with a mindset that people choose credit cards for their benefits, and as such, are familiar with at least some of those benefits. That mindset might have worked for 90% of people, but it didn’t work for the woman in question. If we were marketers at American Airlines, we’d have missed an opportunity to engage our customer, get her to preferentially travel on American Airlines because of the great perks she can receive, maybe encourage more spending on the card. In this case we would not have alienated a customer so much as failed to really woo her in the first place.

Moral of the story: Nothing is obvious. We should think about designing for ignorance as well as knowledge if we want to maximize the impact of the experiences we put into the world.