Recently I collected a couple of hundred translation industry business cards at a conference. The cards came in all shapes, sizes, and colours. My task was to write to everyone who took the trouble to give me one of their cards. Having completed the task, I thought I’d share some thoughts about business card design from one recipient’s point of view. I jotted these down as I went through the cards and now reproduce them for you.
Note: this is my personal view
Accuracy: One or two of the cards I handled had errors in their address. This really is rather unforgiveable and could be the reason why the owners never hear from anyone.
Space for notes: One card (out of the 200 or so) had a dedicated space for notes. And many others had plenty of white space available for jottings. It’s great to be able to jot down why I have taken a certain person’s card. It certainly helps to jog the memory after a busy few days at a major event. But a word of caution, please read one of the links I give below, because in some cultures writing on peoples’ cards is not at all polite and can even be taken as an insult.
Several cards were printed on high-gloss paper. This makes it difficult to make any notes. The ink from a pen smudges and many pens won’t write on shiny paper. Other cards were printed on a dark background which also made it impossible to write any notes.
Font: Many cards had the vital information (phone and email addresses) printed in such tiny or unclear type that I needed to squint to see them. Some of the cards I saw had their crucial data printed in very pale colours – again difficult to read.
Complicated email addresses inevitably lead to copying mistakes. Email addresses with lots of numbers and apparently random letters, unrelated to the person’s name, are the hardest of all to copy out. I was surprised by how many people have a domain name and website but then use a gmail or hotmail email address.
While on the subject of email addresses, my aversion to hotmail addresses continues. I feel (and it’s my personal view, feel free to disagree) that a hotmail address does not give the correct impression of gravitas.
Size: Size does matter. The standard size is 3.5 inches x 2 inches. These fit neatly into card holders, wallets and other items designed for the purpose. Square ones, tiddly ones, and super large ones stand out, but they don’t fit in. And in some cultures (see below) they must fit into a card holder.
Design and content: Many of the “rules” for card design that I have seen say “keep it simple”. But I say that simply giving an email address and phone number isn’t quite enough. I like to know at least the town or city where a person has their office.
Phone numbers should carry the international dialling prefix. A card without this, and with no address, gives no clues to the recipient as to how to get in touch by phone if they are in a different country.
A couple of cards gave the business name but not the name of the owner of the business. This can be confusing.
Paper quality is important. It should be good quality and sturdy enough to withstand handling.
Cards that are out-of-date with different contact data written over them – however neatly – are a turn-off.
A logo or other relevant design helps the card stand out.
And lastly, a piece of typed paper cut to shape to serve as a business card really does not cut the mustard in my book. It gives a very poor impression of the person who gave it to you. To be fair, I think the one such “card” that I received belonged to a student, who perhaps hasn’t yet reached the stage of business cards.
I live and work in the UK and our business card etiquette is fairly informal. This is not the case in other countries. Read the links below for some good advice to follow.
More far-reaching advice on business cards
It’s important to be aware of business practice in different cultures. I looked up a few websites containing some good advice if you are travelling further afield than Europe. For example the method of presenting your card and receiving others’ can be crucial to a good business relationship. Read more on this.
In many parts of the globe a business card carries much greater significance than simply a means to exchange contact information. For the most part, the exchange of cards occurs at the beginning or end of the initial meeting. In Korea it is preferred that you present your card to a person before asking for theirs. In Japan cards should be presented and received with both hands. And cards should be kept in a card case. You can read more here:
And for some more design advice from the business card print firms, read this.
Finally, I checked over my own business cards with all the above in mind, and there is certainly room for improvement. But I have 500 to finish first.
Our readers come from all over the world. Have you any thoughts to add to mine? I’d love to hear from you.