Taken for granted


While reading through a design book, I came across an article about the history of the key ring. According to the book, the ubiquitous, tightly-wound metal rings that hold our keys together have only been around since the 1970s. If this was true, what did people use to keep their keys in order before then?

Still somewhat in disbelief, I asked some older relatives to confirm what I had read. At first, they were surprised to hear that there was ever a time before the modern key ring. But then they acknowledged that the 70s sounded about right for the date this simple innovation came to pass. When I asked what they used before that, they had a tough time remembering, but eventually described a different type of key organizer.

Let me get to the point of this story. Sometimes a design is so much better than its predecessors that customers eventually forget what it was ever like to live without it. To them, the innovation has always been there, and they can barely pinpoint when it actually came about. In other words, the things we take for granted — whether they be key rings, power steering, or the redial button on a phone — are so fundamentally useful that they become indispensable. And as we forget about the time before we had the benefit of these innovations, we silently cement them into our lifestyles as things we never intend to live without.

It’s counterintuitive, but if customers start to take your product for granted, you probably have a real winner on your hands.