How to Design a Great Business Card

How to Design a Great Business Card

The business card—that little piece of cardstock with someone’s contact information printed on it—has become ubiquitous. Limited until recently to sales representatives, attorneys, and other business types, now anyone with a few bucks can go online and have personalized, full-color cards printed and delivered the next day. Against that background, it’s easy to forget that they have a long and fascinating back story.

A Brief History

Historians generally agree that the use of what we would now call “business cards” started either in 15th-century China. Later, in Europe, “calling cards” or “visiting cards” were first used by aristocrats as a way for visitors to announce their presence at the door of an upper-class home. These cards typically had only the visitor’s name printed on it, and there were strict rules around how a card should be presented and to whom. Tradespeople and the growing middle class in the 19th century caught on to the use of pre-printed cards to exchange contact information. The current “standard-sized” business card (3-3/8 by 2-1/8 inches) was settled on by the mid-20th century.

What Makes a Great Business Card Design?

Even in this digital, wired, electronic age, there is often no better way to provide contact information than with the printed business card: They are tangible, lightweight, and as easy to distribute as handing it to someone or leaving it on someone’s desk.

Of course, everyone in business has a stack (or pile) of other people’s business cards. Most of them are the same size, shape, and color, and at a glance you can’t tell one from another. So how do you make your card stand out?

The possibilities literally are endless, limited only by your imagination and budget. Here are some ideas:

  • Shapes:  Think outside the rectangle. Are you a musician? Have your cards shaped like a guitar, accordion, tuba, or some other instrument. Deal in antique clocks? Try a cuckoo-clock or grandfather-clock shape. Computer programmer? Put little rectangular holes in it to resemble an old-fashioned punch card. You get the idea.
  • Materials: You aren’t limited to plain old card stock. Anything thin and somewhat flexible will do. Look at plastics, fabrics, even wood or metal. If you insist on paper, there are many varieties to consider, from different colors to translucent and more.
  • Decorations: Cutouts, embossing, raised lettering, watermarks, fold-outs…the list of possible decorations goes on.

Regardless of how you design your business card, it is critical that it has the following characteristics:

  • Easy to read: Don’t make anyone work to figure out your phone number.
  • Complete, accurate, and up to date: The first bounced email or “this number has been disconnected” message, and your card goes in the trash.

A Final Word: Business Card Etiquette

Did you know that you should not present someone your business card with your left hand? Or that your card should not have any handwriting on it? (Did your phone number change? Suck it up and get new cards.) Business card etiquette rules are largely forgotten in the U.S., but in some countries they are still strictly observed, and you run the risk of offense if you don’t follow them. If you do business internationally, read up on the expectations regarding business cards before you travel. Just as important, have special cards printed with a translation of your contact information printed on the back for use in specific countries.

The business card is alive and well, and one of your most important marketing tools. Get some good ones!