Business cards

Lately I’ve been thinking about the concept of business cards.

Business cards are a token for re-establishing communications after an intial meeting. You meet someone, give them your card, and they later use that card to get in contact with you. But for them to remember who the token was from, it must match to a context they have constructed – so you need to include information on the card to aid that recall.

The information I consider necessary for contextual reconstruction is your name, photo, role and organisation. A hint at what the organisation does also helps. Most business cards don’t include a photo, I imagine because doing so would make you look like a prat; many people have difficulty recalling someone just from their name, but a photo gives instant recall. A work-around for the prat issue may be a witty comment on the card like “Not photogenic, but a Software Engineer nonetheless”. The card should have blank space for writing in additional context information. Garrett Dimon thinks that job titles just don’t work in small companies, so includes a micro-CV instead. I think you’ve got to leave space for written notes, so user-generated context information can be stored. On Garrett’s cards, I’d do the CV in gray so it can be treated like background text and scrawled over. To scrawl on a card, having process colour and the surface that produces doesn’t cut it. Go with spot colour on a matt card, so that pencils, felt-tip pens or whatever will work.

As for what contact information should be included, I think that voice, web and email addresses are mandatory, but there’s no need for fax numbers or street addresses – they can voice/email you and ask.

Is it important to make business cards that people keep? I think the way you can ensure someone keeping your card is to make it useful at what it is – a token. If you demand a memorable or keepable card, you could make a business card that can also be used for estimating distances. Or you could put an unobtrusive puzzle on there, like a Soduku. Or make the card dual use – like a business card / lock picking tool set. The internet has killed Compact Disc Business cards, because presenting that much data is easy over the internet (and people are a hesitant to put a rectangular CD into their drive. Unless it was something useful, like Damn Small Linux) – another useful card could have holes cut out to enable UML diagramming with a metal business card (stainless steel, US$1.80 each); or perhaps frosted plastic. On the creative side, you could do a PCB business card, or just give them a puppy. But these are all gimmicks; if gimmicks do it for you – or your customers – great. But don’t break the rules. Wallets are designed to hold business cards, so if yours doesn’t fit it’s going to have to be ultra-compelling to keep.

Robert Scoble thinks a good business card starts a conversation, and he might be right – if you treat business cards as a way of generating business leads. And the gimmick cards would certainly do that. But would you really contact someone based on a cool business card? Surely you should have started the conversation before you swap cards. He also says that fun job titles are so last century, but if there’s originality, I disagree. Director of Doughnut Freshness, indeed. But plain and boring might not be a problem, if you’re so interesting people want your card regardless.

Guys, a hint: don’t confuse calling cards and business cards. Trying to pick up chicks with a business card just doesn’t fly. Calling cards perhaps should be more interesting, or show more personality, than business cards. In fact they are more a marketting device than a contact token. Step 4 at Great FX’s ‘Design Business Cards in Adobe Photoshop’ article includes a bunch of useful links for designing a business card.

There are International / cultural considerations – the Japanese keep getting mentioned as being different. Like, only girls have rounded corners on their cards, and the Japanese hand cards over upon meeting. And I believe that the Japanese might freak out if you wrote all over their business card. But I don’t know much about this area.

What’s the best business card you’ve ever seen? The worst?

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4 thoughts on “Business cards

  1. daniel

    The worst might be those that are so dull that they never get looked at again, or that you don’t feel inspired to keep.

    And yeah, I hate non-standard-sized ones. Why would I keep it?

    Mind you, with most cards, I transcribe the contact details into something electronic and chuck away the card.

  2. glen

    As Daniel notes, I’d say that the best new innovation would be if I could point the card at my phone and have it upload the contact details. Of course, there are some pretty big technological hurdles there, but I’ll happily take of my programmer hat and ignore those!

    Great post, Josh… thanks.

    A lot of Asian cultures have the concept that the business card is a kind of ‘extension’ of the person, so if you show disrespect to the card, you are disrespecting the person. So business cards are always handed out with two hands holding the card, thumbs upwards. They should be accepted in the same way. Writing on them is definitely not appropriate!

  3. John

    Interesting toptic. The Japanese are very strict about their business cards. About two months ago I went to Japan and had special Japanese business cards created by a company I found on google. It was very well worth it as the Japanese were highly impressed with native language cards. For Asia, business cards are a must and don’t just flip them out and throw them on the table! You need to present them with class, etc. as a sign of respect. If you never need Asian cards, the google company was called Luna Concepts, and I would recommend them. I put their link in the website part of this post.

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