Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Business Card Experience

One of the first experiences that many people have with your company is with your business card. In Japan, there's an art to presenting a business card -- you hold the card with both hands on one of the short ends and present it forward. When appropriate, give a deferential bow with your head.

While we don't do things so formally in the US, you can can either make a great first impression or you can blow it. Last night, somebody handed me a business card with an unreadable name on it -- it was his signature digitized. It didn't help that the card also told me nothing about what his company did. A card like that can be an obstacle, rather than an aid.

Fortunately, designing a good business card isn't hard:

  • It has to be readable. No yellow on green or psychedelic backgrounds.
  • Leave breathing room between elements. If it's all jammed together, it's not readable.
  • Cluster similar elements. Don't put your phone number in one corner and your fax number in a different corner.
  • A very common layout for business cards is a triangle, with information in three areas. For example, name and title in top middle, company logo in lower left, and contact info in lower right. Triangles are common because they work -- they allow people to focus quickly on each area. Other layouts work too -- just think about how people will read your business card.
  • Don't right-align text that's hard to read that way -- for example, a street address.
  • Usually, your name and your logo should be the largest elements. Put another way, whatever is most important should be the most readable.
  • The larger the logo, the smaller the company. Look at cards you've gotten from people at Microsoft, Amazon, Google, etc. If you want to project a bigger image, downsize your logo. The worst thing you can do is fill your card with your logo.
  • Unless you're a company the size of Microsoft, avoid putting multiple logos on your card.
  • Downsize the text too, but not so small that people need glasses to read it. I've gotten business cards with which they should have supplied a magnifying glass.
  • There's nothing wrong with a tagline, especially if your company name doesn't immediately tell people what you do. A tagline is not a paragraph.
  • If you want to do something unusual -- a photo of your product, an array of images, a QR code -- the back of the card is a great place to do this. Don't clutter the front. If you can make the back useful all the better. Many optometrists have space for your prescription on the back. Puzzazz business cards have a puzzle on the back.
  • If you're a normal business, don't go with an off-size supplier. Moo cards, cool as they are, are bigger than standard business cards. Use them for personal cards to show off your kids or your photography. Vistaprint cards are smaller than standard, which is a bit less of a problem. While you're at it, business cards are a different sizes in Europe, Japan, etc.
  • Ignore most of the blog posts on cool business cards -- aluminum, origami, little boxes, etc. If you're an artist, a designer, or Woz, these are great options. The rest of us should stick with something a bit more normal. There are plenty of simple ways to stand out, such as a color choice, an impressive back, a paper choice or even a cut corner. Puzzazz cards have eight different logo colors, so people can choose a card with their favorite color (and there are ten different puzzles that go on the back).
  • At least one side must be matte in a light color with room to write on. Everybody writes on business cards (except in Japan, where it's a major faux pas). While we're at it, glossy business cards are generally harder to read.
  • Did I mention it has to be readable?
And, if you're still working on a logo for your company, check out these posts:

One Thing About Logos
Designing the Puzzazz Logo