Business cards: 8 ways to make sure yours gets ignored – update

The fashions in business card text and design don’t change as often as they do for clothing, thank Heavens – can you imagine creatively ripped or floral patterned cards with words like “please engage with us at…” or “reach out to us here…”

8 mistakes in writing business cards

What does your business card say about you?

Because business cards are such important door-openers in business – especially when you’re networking – it’s worth re-examining them and what to write on them today, some four years since the original article was published. Updates are in italics…

8 ways to make sure your business card gets ignored1.Fancy cut-out shapes
These are more expensive to have printed and unless they really make their point cleverly they only serve to irritate people. This of course is entirely unfair, but I have now watched several people on a business card exchanging exercise sneer down their noses when some smart-assed creative type hands them an otherwise beautiful card in the shape of a tomato. Conventional works better; fancy shapes are perceived as cheap gimmicks. And they are a pain when you try to fit them into a card-filing device; you might notice them more easily, but it’s the wrong kind of notice. 

2.Over-busy
OK, it’s amazing just how many words, logos, images, whizzing bow ties and other gargoyles you can cram on two sides of card roughly 2 x 3 inches. However bear in mind two things here: a) even with a business card people start to get word blindness after a few lines and b) the primary job of a business card is to get readers to call you or go on to your website, not sit down with it and read your entire CV/résumé. Key points and contact information only, please. It’s also well worth allocating enough clear white space so if people want to write down, say, where and when you have met, they can do it. Also see #8 below.

3.Picture of yourself
This is an issue which is still being argued over, especially in the UK where it’s frowned upon as being a bit tacky. Those in favor say it’s an excellent way to remind readers of the face that goes with the name and product/service offering – a useful advantage when you’ve just been networking with 50 people. Others say why waste the space with a picture of the person you can see as s/he hands you a card. My thoughts? OK if you’re a “visual” personality, actor, model, etc., but unnecessary if your business is not dependent on how you look. What do you think? Well, we’re still arguing four years later. Head shot images on business cards seem more acceptable now, at least for people in more “modern” businesses. But many of the lawyers and accountants are still sticking with the traditional look.

8 ways to make sure your business card get ignored

Two problems here…
1) Graphic image is meaningless and doesn’t relate to the business
2) Bottom line of type is too small for everyone to read

4.Small type
Not everyone has 20-20 vision. Whether you like it or not, many of the people you want to do business with are the wrong side of 40 and most of them will be in varying stages of presbyopia. Ergo, forget the 4pt type font no matter how much your 20-year-old graphic designer says it looks cute. Bijou unreadable cute does not appeal to important potential clients, especially those who are too vain to wear glasses and would need to hold a giant billboard at arm’s length before they could read it. Still true to this day. Modern medicine has yet to come up with ways to stop people getting long-sighted as they age…

5.Reversed-out type
This may seem like a no-brainer, but shuffling through my large deck of business cards here I see several that use red, green, blue and purple type reversed out of black. That may work for a full-size brochure or web page, but on a little card it just disappears. If you want reversed-out type on a black or other dark background, stick to white or yellow which can be read easily, and ensure the font is plain and the type size is reasonably large – white/yellow out of black tends to look smaller than it actually is. Since this article was first published the fashion for design has moved towards muted, neutral colours many of which remind me of what you can step in by accident in a farm yard. If you are a follower of fashion that’s fine, but don’t forget that a strong contrast in colours make your words stand out much better – and that’s what makes for a more effective card.

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6.Inappropriate fonts
No matter how elegant and chic your business is, don’t be tempted by swirly, copperplate type styles. They are hard to read and, like colors reversed out of black, tend to disappear. Avoid tacky, jokey type styles with lots of little whistles and bells on them; you may think they will attract attention and you’re right, but it’s not the sort of attention you want. If, say, you’re a children’s party planner, you may be tempted to cover your business card in cute little fancy words backed by fluffy-wuffy bunny rabbits, but don’t forget it’s the parents who’ll buy your service, and they’re more interested in facts and figures. Plainer may sound boring, but it tends to work better. Yes, still applicable. Save the fancy fonts for your website and larger pieces of print where they work better.

8 ways to make sure your business card gets ignored

Two more problems here:
1) Photos of card owner and someone else too – controversial
2) Too busy, too much information – needs one clear point of contact

7.Inappropriate images
Much as you may love the idea of using a seascape as a backdrop for your name and contact details, if you’re a steeplejack working in downtown city centers it doesn’t really hang together. Similarly if you’re an osteopath you don’t want to show an image of you cracking someone’s back, but equally sticking a daffodil in the background isn’t going to enhance what you do. Try to match your image to you and the nature of your business … unlike one of the cards I have here from someone who is a teacher of Polish and Russian, but the background of his card is a scene of windmills. I know they may have windmills in Poland and Russia, but to me they instantly say “Holland.” Confusing… Some four years later, the fashion for image backgrounds on business cards seems to have dwindled, with a stronger focus on logos and words. Makes sense, really, as those are what matter most. 

8.Bad lamination
Some sort of protective coating for business cards is a very good idea to protect yours from being smudged by a potential client’s grubby hands. However some people have their cards encapsulated or laminated cheaply, which makes them look like an old library card. An alternative to lamination is to use a good quality, heavy coated card in the first place. They tend to be almost smudge-proof and look smarter for longer. Yes, and another advantage of good quality, heavy card is that it’s usually easier for a recipient to write on, should they want to record where/when they met you. Slippery-surfaced cards are fiendishly hard to write on.

Further updates…

9.Bar codes and QR codes
This issue has caused controversy ever since whoever devised them, devised them. A bar code or its fancier cousin, a QR code, enables new business contacts with very supple wrists to tap your card in the correct manner into the appropriate reading device and end up on your website or possibly or anywhere else you want to send them. Being an old fashioned grump I think QR codes look like a birdie has cr*pped on the card and the space would be much better employed to display a humble email address, URL and phone number without those having been squashed into 3 point type to make room for the splat. A geeky gimmick, perhaps, but not as easy to use as geeks think.

10. Four page cards
In his excellent article about the more technical elements of business cards, UK-based expert printer and business networker Mark Orr points out that a properly designed and sized 4-page or even 6-page card can be a very useful mini-brochure, provided that you don’t try to cram 500 words of ad copy into it. “Also, the cards will then be thicker and three dimensional,” says Mark. “That means they will stand up on their own on a table.  You will also find that people will open them up and read the inside whilst you stand there.  So, it becomes a talking point to help you engage with them.”

Check out the comments below – and add your  updates about business card text and design

Would love to know how your view of business cards and their role in your business has evolved in the last four years, so please join the conversation!

photo credit: ctoverdrive via photopin cc
photo credit: Corey Ann via photopin cc
photo credit: Doug Beckers via photopin cc

Comments

comments

Thoughts

  1. Nicely put together. It will be interesting to get others perspective on the use of photographs of the ‘card owner’ on the card. I think it’s a bit naff, but the general consensus here is that it is a good thing.
    I guess I have my work cut out!

    • Yes, David – it’s funny about there still being this view that pictures on cards are a bit tacky. It may be a bit of British shyness creeping in; certainly pictures on cards are very popular in North America where business people tend not to hide their lights under bushels quite so much!

  2. Good points. I was always guilty of over-clutter until a friend pointed out that, because of my totally unique name, all I need on my cards is “(front:) Simon Ellinas; (reverse:)Google me.” The results from using it are hard to gauge at present.

    • Simon, that is a great idea, and a novel approach. So I just googled you.

      Your website comes up first, and I clicked on that. I got your mobile site, even though I’m sat looking at a 23″ monitor. And…you have no phone number on your website.

      When I manually forced the site to present the desktop version I could see a phone number. But if I was buying, I would have given up long before then.

    • Oooh, Simon … I would be careful with that one! When someone last said “Google me” to me (he was a rather slimy plastic surgeon to whom I was about to pay £700 / about $1,000 to sew up the holes in my son’s earlobes – long story…!) I thought he was being arrogant and conceited. Do you not think that similar text on your card might have a similar effect???

    • Simon Taylor says:

      Simply putting “Google me” on the reverse of a card can often be seen as arrogant and lazy. The key info on a card includes contact details, that’s what cards are for. Shifting the responsibility onto the recipient defeats the object. As a designer I’d always advise against this.

  3. Good points, I’ve seen many different cards when networking.

    Regarding pictures on cards, this is something I used to do myself – when you are seeing many people at an event having a picture does make it easier for people to remember who you are.

    I don’t use a picture anymore, there are plenty on my website so if people visit the site they will have my picture – plus it’s always up to date, an out of date picture on a card isn’t much use.

    • Thanks for your comment James – yes, there are definite pros and cons regarding pictures on business cards. But as one of the main purposes of the business card is to get people to go on to your website, new contacts will catch up with what you look like there.

  4. As a designer this is a very interesting post. I agree particularly with the point about small print. I would always advise as a bare minimum point size 7pt, but have found over the years that this is just too small. As you point out, most people in network meetings (of whatever sort, be it in the City or in the supermarket) are getting to or are over a certain age, so really the number needs to stand out so they don’t have to get a magnifying glass to read it. I met one lady at a networking event who made the most wonderful cakes and had a very sweet, decorated card, but the number was so tiny I couldn’t read it, even with a magnifying glass. I threw the card out as I couldn’t be bothered.
    I also would also agree with the point about lamination. I pay extra for lamination on my cards and it has an amazing effect on people. Not only does it help the card stay looking fresh, but it also has a very tactile effect and people say ‘ooh this feels nice’ :-).
    I personally would run a mile from those 1,000 cards for £5 offers you see. You pay for what you get and do you really want people thinking you are cheap?

    • Great to hear from you Nicola, especially as you are an expert designer! I wonder why it is that so many people’s information on business cards is so small that it’s unreadable … I suspect it’s partly fashion, and partly an attempt to cram as much information in as possible without making the car look too cluttered. What do you think?

  5. I would also agree with the comment about reversed out type. When text is reversed out of a colour the ink tends to bleed into the white area and so becomes unreadable. If you use it on small text, you will very likely be working against yourself and no one will be able to read your contact details and then you’ve wasted your money. To have any real effect reversed out text needs to be bigger and bolder, so use it for main headings, not info

    • Great advice, Nicola – thank you! I find that trying to read too much reversed out type (especially online) makes my eyes go funny, but that’s probably just me – or is it?

      • I think it depends on the point size Suze. Some people tend to use very small text reversed of black & that’s hard to read. Its much better to use it just on titles.

        Its also bad for people with sight problems. The RNIB recommend a minimum point size of 12-13pt for their printed leaflets, so I would presume that would be the same for web.

        • Maybe I have some sort of vision problem then, Nicola … I find when I read any form of longish reversed out text, online or in print, it leaves my eyes with a sort of “ghost” impression for a minute or two afterwards. I’m going to do some research into this as a readability issue … watch this space! (And of course let me know if you have further thoughts on it – just scroll up >>>^^^ to the “Want to speak to Suze in person” box in the side bar.)

  6. Susan, could not agree more – well done.

    I am aware you touched on reversed out cards, but here’s my take on colour.

    One other point – coloured cards are an absolute no-no in my book. When I get the card home, I want to make a note on there about when and where I met the person. Maybe, something else as well as a trigger too.

    A dark card with no white space, means, the card becomes annoying and forgettable.

    • That’s an excellent point, Laurence, thank you – everyone else take note. I only have my cards printed on one side, so people can make notes on the back, and whatever design you use, you should leave some space for notes that will help people remember you and get in touch.

  7. Likewise Suze, I have enough cards to decorate several walls…although they were all recently added to the database so technically now redundant!
    Another point about readability, is that with the facility for scanning cards into the system, the ones that perform best are, naturally, the most clearly defined .

    Great tips as some are not really ‘fit for purpose’ – and do their bearers no favours at all.

    • Thanks Christine … good point about scanability. Also quite a few cards these days carry QR codes on them which very useful but ugly … someone should come up with a more attractive and less geeky design for those!

  8. Very interesting, and I’m delighted to read that I have avoided most of the pitfalls! One point not mentioned, however, is that of orientation. My cards are ‘portrait’, so could they be annoying from that perspective?

    • That’s a very good point, David – my card is “portrait” too and I think there is a reasonably even split between the two orientations. However particularly in cases of people scanning cards into a central storage system, as Christine has mentioned, the landscape format might be more readable. What does everyone think?

    • My cards are also portrait and it works fine. The only difficulty I had was making the website details big enough as you really need to leave a minimum of 3mm at each edge of a card so that any important text isn’t cut off when the printer guillotines them to shape. I just made sure my phone number was a bit bigger 🙂

  9. Personally, I hate laminated or odd shaped cards for the simple reason that they won’t go through my digital scanner very well. For me, the whole point is that once digitised into my database, I’m more likely to call that person or company later.

    Cards that kerfuffle the scanner get binned and rarely get added manually.

    • Good point Sally – thanks for bringing it up. It would seem that many people are now using these digital scanners and if you want your business card to be included, make sure it’s a) of a conventional shape and b) not laminated.

  10. Mrs. Bray has her fizog on her business cards. I don’t, but designed both hers and mine. The reason is that she represents both her service and product. We also use her image in printed material. She is a psychologist, and people take comfort from a counsellor’s image, and the image also acts as an introduction to potential clients if the card gets passed on.

    If you’re a plumber, or a T.V. repair man, this doesn’t work. The point to remember when putting your image on a card is that the image must be there for the benefit of the customer, rather than for you.

    • Very true, Stephen. Thanks for making that point, and it’s something of which we should take note. Does showing your face on your business card add something useful (and potentially deal-clinching) to your product/service offering? If it does, show it. If not, keep it out.

  11. I never thought about this before reading your post, but when I see a person’s photo on a card, I automatically think “real estate.”

    • That’s so true, Mary – in Canada realtors even put their pictures on signs outside homes advertised for sale! In fairness though, I get the feeling that in North America real estate sales are much more about individual brokers rather than “estate agencies” – real estate companies – as we have here in the UK. So in North America the personal touch and happy face are probably very important, as they are the brand…

  12. Here’s my Canadian opinion 🙂
    Photos – I use one on my card because I believe it’s easier to be remembered but mine is “tastefully” done. There was a time when as soon as you said photo on a business card then people thought real estate agents AND sleazy 🙂
    Type size – I agree with you Suzan that type should be bigger since many of us “squint” (or have to use a magnifying glass) to read things
    Over busy – I believe that to make anything simpler is the way to go. Look at the Mac’s one button mouse vs the PC’s two button mouse. Which is easier for people to use?
    There’s my opinion 🙂
    Layout – landscape for sure since they can be scaned (I don’t – I still use a rolodex – do people still know what that is? lol)

    • Canadians come up with a sensible argument as usual! The photo issue is a tricky one though – British people tend to be a bit more reserved than North Americans even when they’re in “selling mode,” hence reluctance in some cases to use photos. But as you say, if it’s tastefully done it is very effective.

  13. All good advice… not sure we will go for pictures just yet, but we could do with a business card scanner – can anyone recommend a reliable one for a Mac please?

    • Thanks for your comment Claire – I don’t know of any appropriate scanners but will put the word out on some other platforms and get back to you about it here. In the meantime, has anyone else got some recommendations??

  14. Congratulations – seldom have I seen so much good advice concentrated in one place. My problem was to overcome the prejudice that exists in some places against particularly well-rounded vowels (unless you have a valid alternative lifestyle), so I opted for a two-sided card. I always present the Soft-Spoken Words side first (even if I want to talk about my database skills) and find that makes me “acceptable” (well, I am a card-carrying Equity member).

    • LOL Roy! Glad you found the article useful and as you’re an Equity member I’m sure we can all forgive you for having a double-sided business card offering a choice between well-rounded vowels and soft-spoken words… thanks for joining the discussion and please come back again soon. xx

  15. Great stuff Suzan, but what else would we expect? Let me add a couple of points.
    Shiny coatings (lip gloss for your business cards?) look nice, but it is useful to be able to make a note on a card someone has given you. In Japan apparently (and would make an interesting article in its own right) this is very bad business etiquette as is putting it in your wallet straight away.
    Agree that cards should reflect your business where an encounter at Speed Networking event lingers. Here a lady “colour consultant” explained how the right colour gives you more energy, kudos or whatever, only to bring out one of the dullest business cards ever. Pointing this out gave her a rush of energy – she went a bright pink! Hope she changed it afterwards 🙂

    • ROFL … Lovely story George! And a very good point about shiny coatings which make it hard to write on them. Interesting, also, what you say about business card exchange in Japan: please enlighten us on the etiquette here if you get a moment to spare! Thanks for dropping by and I hope to catch up with you again soon. xx

  16. chirs Berry says:

    Really good tips! I will keep this in min when I go and get my bsuiness cards made 🙂

  17. Hey, these are some great business card tips. I would say it is most important to put a picture on your card if you also have a social media address on your card. That way, they can make sure that they have found the right person when they are searching you on social media.
    If you are just giving an e-mail/phone number, I would say that a picture is not super essential.

  18. Simon Taylor says:

    You make some very good points here. I particularly like the one about inappropriate fonts. Some come with both decorative and plain caps, Zapf Chancery being one example. The idea is to use the decorative version for the initial and plain for the rest. I’ve often seen whole names made up entirely of decorative caps and the mess it makes is hilarious! Reversing type out is a tricky one, too. I was always taught that if you were doing that you went up a weight – say from light to regular – with the type to compensate for ink bleed. I’d add that some practices, like making the type size big enough to read, and not cramming your life story onto a card, will always be good practice, whatever the current vogue for colour or images may be.

Trackbacks

  1. […] a recent article here on HTWB we got into some lengthy and fascinating discussions not only about business cards, […]

  2. […] again we welcome British businessman and printing expert Mark Orr to HTWB. I have written about business cards before, but now we get advice from the top! Here he shares his top tips on how make your business […]

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