Card Sorting Exercises

It’s not explicitly a design problem, but since I have something of a soap box, I’m just going to use it: I’d do most anything to lighten the load of extraneous crap stuffed inside my wallet — not the dollar bills, of course, but rather the various faux credit cards that have instantiated themselves in my billfold. I carry a few proper credit cards — one personal card, a debit card, and two issued to me by the Times — but I’m also burdened by lots of cards foisted on me by marketers: stored value cards that act more or less like gift certificates, and membership cards — to museums, to professional groups, to my local video store — that try to impart a greater sense of worth than the membership itself probably deserves.

Add to that a handful of business cards, my subway fare card, a map of the New York City subway system, my driver’s license, health insurance card, and some wallet-size photographs carried for posterity, and the wallet is already three-quarters of an inch thick — and that’s before I add a single dollar bill, even. It’s a constant annoyance.

Wallet Illustration by Paul Oslo Davis

Store All Your Value in One Place

If design isn’t the answer, then there’s a business solution in here somewhere. There’s plenty of money in stored value cards, to be sure, but what if there was a business service to consolidate all of those value cards in a single card? I’d gladly pay two and a half percent of the value of the various stored value cards I have stashed in my wallet to, say, MasterCard if doing so would relieve me of the duty of carrying them around with me on the off chance I’m close to a store that issued one of them and I have a need to purchase something. So that if I needed a new soap dish from Bed, Bath & Beyond, for example, I would swipe my MasterCard at the register and MasterCard would debit any stored value I have with that vendor before charging against my credit. Wouldn’t that be easy?

Above: What’s in your wallet? Illustration by Paul Oslo Davis.

It would also encourage more impulsive sales, I’m sure; when the money that your grandmother gave you is bundled in and essentially indistinguishable from the money in your MasterCard line of credit, I’m willing to bet you’re more likely to spend freely, probably more than you would have had you had a card in your hand that you knew was limited to US$20. This would probably (hopefully?) make up for the revenue that vendors derive from absent-minded customers losing their cards and never spending that money they’ve been given. And, of course, the vendors can continue to skim interest off the unused funds, too.

I’m no financial engineer, obviously; I’m just a guy who wants a lighter wallet. Consolidating stored value cards is one possible solution — I’m not going to hold my breath for it. Another would be to start printing these cards, which in many cases don’t need to have the thickness and heft of a credit card, on thinner plastic stock, something akin to that used for New York City’s MetroCards. And, without getting into the merits or dangers of a national identity card, it would be great to consolidate my health insurance information and driver’s license on one card, too. Anything to make life a little simpler.

  1. I’m always concerned about the thickness of my wallet and usually choose the cards for the day based on my routine. My lowest number of cards starts at 5, which is way too many. I think I use my debit card more, since I don’t have any room for cash. And I certainly can’t have my wallet thicker than my Treo.

    I’m not sure I’d want to give more control to the credit card, but I see the value in producing a Virtual Card. One card that contains the “image” or value of several cards. One swipe reveals different functions based on your location, vendor, etc… The virtual account could combine multiple programs accessible via a web-based admin console. I smell web 2.0 and ajax.

  2. I’ve gotten my fingered scanned at Jewel. Now I can go there and purchase items without even a wallet. And because it’s integrated with their system, I get my preferred customer discount as well.

  3. Consolidation is possible on a personal level. UPCs are standard based on the combo of numbers, so you can produce your own card with any number different upc’s (ie pet-store card, grocery card), and label them too. Easy enough with any place that won’t give you a hardtime.

  4. If you carry a phone, and most of us do, mobile payments may be the answer to your overstuffed wallet woes. While not available in the U.S. yet, electronic payment via mobile phone has been introduced in parts of Europe and Asia.

    Perhaps it won’t be long before we’ll be able to relieve our wallets of this burden and return them to the more simple function of prophylactic transport.

  5. I’ve always suspected that the real money in “loyal customer” cards is that they encourage you to come back to the store, but more often than not they expire or I lose them or deliberately throw them away before I redeem them. So maybe the burden of carrying them is built-in to the business model. Like rebates. Maybe making it too easy would increase the number of people who actually cash them in enough that it wouldn’t be a moneymaker anymore.

  6. well, since this is the “day of the beast” i think that it’s appropriate to bring up having some sort of microchip implanted in you that would consolidate all your cards and assets into one master account. then you could walk around with NO wallet whatsoever!

    how totally scifi of me for a tuesday 🙂

  7. Although this won’t likely help lighten your particular load, some women (with purses) may find it helpful.

    I saw in a magazine once the idea of using a small hole punch in the corners of each card, and then looping them onto a ring. I suppose you could keep a version of this in your car and bring it in accordingly.

    I think, however, your idea of the “one card to rule them all” is pretty savvy.

  8. I solved this, for the most part, by throwing one of those Moleskine accordion folders in my messenger bag, and then keeping five things in a Slimmy:

    – Cash
    – Driver’s license
    – Credit card
    – Debit card
    – Chicago card (RFID monetary doo-dad for the El/bus)

    YMMV, of course, based on what you *really* need for the essentials. I keep my preferred card for the grocery store on my keychain, which frees up more precious real estate in the Slimmy.

  9. You mention all these stored value cards, but why do you have them in the first place? Most stores allow you to pay with a quick swipe of your debit or credit card, making no real difference between the two. Couple this with the “under $20, no signature required” rule that Starbucks and other places have, and you’re actually out *faster* than with cash.

    Of course, if you have a lot of “preferred buyer” cards (barcodes, no stored value), you can create your own Чber-card that has multiple barcodes (as another reply suggested).

    My wallet is very thin, although sometimes it’s thicker than I’d like. Mine is a simple Coach non-folding wallet with external money clip. It can only fit a maximum of about 5 cards. I keep my 2 credit cards, my ATM card, MTA card, and my license in the wallet, and cash goes in the clip, along with collected business cards (that I keep forgetting to remove). Everything else is kept in a box in my house until needed.

  10. “UPCs are standard based on the combo of numbers, so you can produce your own card with any number different upc’s (ie pet-store card, grocery card), and label them too.”

    I wanted to do this, but a quick survey of the retail cards I have showed them all to have magnetic stripes, not barcodes.

  11. Now this is a great idea. I’d love “one card to rule them all” but I believe aside from technical challenges there’s a privacy challenge here that would be very difficult to surmount.

    David Weiss

  12. If I was designing a customer loyalty program or the like, how could I make it as easy as possible to be a member? Perhaps I’d accept a driver’s license, phone number, or credit card number rather than forcing patrons to carry another card in their wallet.

    Not only does it make it easier for the customer (you don’t forget your phone number or credit card), but it also makes it easier for me (I don’t have to pay for the ‘loyalty’ plastic in the first place).

    Given the handful of cards I’ve got in my wallet, I imagine there must be some business reason for having the card itself. Since I found the comments of Wilson Miner, above, interesting, I might embark on an ethnographic object study of these in-group totems.

    More tk.

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