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…”
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…
1.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.
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.
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…
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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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.
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.
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.
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!