Do you know what makes business cards great? Our culture to exchange and keep them. It has become an American business tradition to own one and to hand it out when meeting new people. The business card exchange is like a toast at a dinner party.
So what if someone brings an extraordinary card to the table?
It is at this moment that the dinner party takes on the tone of a Japanese tea ceremony. Everyone takes turns admiring the unique design, talking about it as if it was a work of vibrant art in an otherwise plain and minimalistic room. People notice things like varnish, letterpress, material, color, corners, thickness, size and shape. If your card resonates with someone (even in a negative way) they will often take it back to the office to show their co-workers, inspiring conversation about your card.
I care more about having a business card I am proud of than the average person. As you can probably tell, I am somewhat of a business card fetishist…
Business card design is important to me so I jumped at the chance to help design our new cards. When tackling a new card design there are many things to consider.
Business cards need to be business-card shaped. People who are in the “business card culture”, meaning, they collect, store, reference, and use business cards often, have a system in place. The system they have is prepared to handle business cards, not weirdly-shaped pieces of cardboard. Sure, people might think it’s cool that your card looks like a floppy disk, but when they try to put it in their wallet, business card holder, card binder, or Rolodex, it won’t fit. You need to use your best judgment, but keep the user experience in mind. I have seen plenty of non-traditional cards on the internet printed on scraps of denim, rubber bands, coasters, even red bricks. It depends on your industry, but in the business world a 3.5″ x 2″ card is probably best.
I am a big fan of rounded corners for one major reason: there are no corners to bend. The corners on a card are always the first to go. This isn’t an issue with rounded corners. Rounded corners easily slide in and out of tight spaces and always look pristine. They also have a more finished and expensive look.
Matte vs. Gloss
I like to write notes on cards, especially if there is something I don’t want to forget from a meeting that related directly to this person. For example, if a specific person would like to see a project we worked on, I would make a note on that person’s card. It is difficult to write on glossy cards and near impossible to do with pencils. For this reason I prefer a matte finish. Our new cards are double-matte.
Explain What the Company Does
When I originally redesigned our business cards the primary directive was to explain what our company does. The name, MentorMate, doesn’t exactly have a literal and obvious connection to what we do. I came up with the concept of putting highlighted and grayed-out skill badges on the back of the card. The highlighted badges describe each employees skills/roles while the grayed-out icons illustrated all the other skills/roles the company as a whole shares. This was a successful concept which will be carrying over into our new design.
It is important to have your card explain what your business does because people may forget. I played “project manager” in the construction of a restaurant once and I ended up with a collection of business cards from the plumber, electrician, tile guy, metal worker, landscaper, kitchen supplier, equipment warehouse, and furniture fabricators. I had to organize all of these using my little business card binder. It is a distant memory now, but I remember having a heck of a time trying to remember if “Edison and Sons” or “Hockenbergs” was our kitchen supplier.
Break the Ice
Because the business card exchange is often the first thing that takes place at a meeting, it is important that the cards start a conversation. As I stated earlier, changing the card exchange from a formal toast to a tea ceremony is huge. I want people to ask questions about our cards. I want to create a buzz.
I have a complicated relationship with QR Codes. Initially, I hated them, thinking them to be pointless. After exploring their possibilities and discovering some creative uses, I fell in love with them and wanted to put a QR Code on everything. Then I swung back to hating them after multiple frustrating issues, until finally, I settled on cool understanding. There is a time and a place for a QR Code and a business card is a pretty good place. You can set it up to import contact information on scan, which saves people the time of manually entering your data. If you have a portfolio or a hard-to-remember website you want people to visit, you can have it go there.
Our previous design did have the QR Code (during my QR love phase), and I can attest that it was more trouble than it was worth. Most people didn’t scan it and of the few who did, some had trouble and complained. Not all cell phone cameras are created equal; 5+ year old phones have a very tough time scanning small complex codes. As generations of business cards came and went, the code kept getting larger and less complex to make scanning as easy as possible. I had to cut certain information, like title, company, and fax number. I had to increase the size and adjust the design to accommodate it. In the end, I spent way too much time tweaking it. As such, there is no QR Code on our new design.
(If you do plan on using a QR Code, I suggest making it about as wide as the card will allow.)
The talented MentorMate design team has been working hard to re-brand the company and the new card theme is based on those new branding standards. The theme is chemistry. Each project is like a compound made up of different elements like project management, design, PHP development, and so on. Each employee brings a set of these elements to the project. This brief summary of our design logic is just to get us all on the same page – I will leave the detailed explanation of the branding’s meaning for another blog post.
My job is to marry the chemistry concept to the skill badge theme.
The front of the card lists all of the vital information. It is traditional and easy to understand. The back of the card is more interesting. You can see the throw-back to the skill icons, but we went a different direction this time. The icons are no longer labeled. I came to the decision to remove them, mostly for aesthetic reasons. The words made the icons irregular shapes creating too much clutter. The loss of information was a concern at first, but then we concluded that most people don’t know what most of the icons mean with or without a title. The majority of people can happily live their entire life and never have any idea what MySQL, PHP, or JQuery is. On the other hand, people who do know those things will have no problem identifying the icon.
While gathering my co-worker’s skill information to complete the backs all the unique cards, many would jokingly request icons like a basketball, high heels, or a Rebel Alliance symbol. We laughed it off at first, but then … why not? We already have icons like a ninja for SEO, a cup of steamy coffee for Java, and a penguin for Linux server administration. Would a ping pong paddle or microphone really be out of place? Why not let the back of the card tell as much of a story as possible about that employee, not just through skills but through hobbies and interests? I presented this idea up the chain and, to my surprise, it was approved! I opened the floodgates for special requests.
Here are the backs of the marketing team with custom icons. Let me know what you think in the comments! I am genuinely curious.