When designing an identity, the primary element that spawns the entire creative package depends on the client. Are you like FedEx, where your primary contact with potential customers is the delivery truck? Are you like Hot Wheels, where your presence in the marketplace is the packaging? When I look at marketing myself, it’s the one-on-one contact. I’ll be heading to the GAMA Trade Show in a little over two weeks, and my hope is to make several contacts there and hope that some of them will pay off in freelancing opportunities that grow into a great relationship. But to do that, I’ll need something to leave behind with the potential client, something that is going to be my main point of contact with them. That item is a business card.

I tend to classify business cards into two types: standard business cards and elaborate business cards. You probably recognize the two categories. Elaborate business cards range from cards on a thicker stock, cards with metallic ink, to cards with die cuts, and cards with non-standard shapes. While these cards can be really impressive when presenting to a client (search online for “Cool Business Cards”), they have two major drawbacks. The first is obvious—cost. Laser and die cuts (custom shapes or knocking out elements of the card) add to the cost of printing. Non-standard material, metallic inks, and the like, all add onto the cost. But if you want a cool card and you want to make an impression, you might be overlooking the second drawback. Namely, where is your contact going to keep your card? Like it or not, American business still uses the rolodex, which almost uniformly accepts the American standard size card 2” by 3.5”. Even printing 2” square cards, or the slim version that’s half the height of the regular standard size card, you’re potentially giving the client a chance to lose your contact information. Isn’t giving your client your contact information the whole point of the business card?

The most overlooked area of the business card is the back. Even if on a budget, going to an offset printer and using standard 14 pt. cardstock with CMYK ink, the difference between the cost of a blank back and printing on the back is so small, it is a missed opportunity not to utilize that space. But what to put there? The simplest solution is your logo. Logo on one side, contact information on the other. Something that showcases your work: game designer James Ernest’s card contained rules for a very small game that was contained on the back of his. I have worked with a photographer that had a collection of six different photographs, one per card. On my first round of business cards, the back side is actually a reverse of the front’s design elements, with the URL to denaghdesign.com as the prominent contact information. When looking at your work, what you promote, think what you can add to your card that will reinforce what you do to your customers or clients.

Oddly enough, the best bit of advice for designing a business card came from outside the world of graphic design: Leave plenty of white space on the card. You will be handing out your card to customers, to clients, to business contacts. That person may want to jot down a quick note to remind them what to do with your card. “Send him a catalog.” “Get our marketing director to contact her.” “Check out when back in the office”. It’s easier to write on matte finish than glossy finish.

The last bit of general design principles regarding business cards is something slipped in there a few paragraphs ago: “the first round”. Yes, you never get a second chance for a first impression, but you can always embrace change to make different first impressions in the future. In other words, if you need to change or update your business card, do so! The cost of business card printing is such a minor business expense, that one shouldn’t worry about using up all the old first-round cards when gearing up for a new round of business cards.

One Comment

  • Wendy

    I have an interest in design at the hobby and “do-stuff-for-friends-for-free” level, and am 100% self-taught. So I always appreciate hearing this kind of advice from experienced professionals. Thanks for sharing.

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