Business Cards in the Digital Age – What’s the Point?

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    Business Cards in the Digital Age – What’s the Point?

    Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t bother carrying business cards.  It was something I used to do, but being in the digital age I had moved away from carrying cards.  Most of the time I exchanged contact information through an email or a text message from my phone to the other person’s phone during the meeting.  It’s fast, and a lot harder to lose than a physical card.

    As we continue to become inundated with digital media it seems old-school to carry around a paper card with your contact information on it, considering it’s fairly simple to find just about anyone’s contact information online.  So why would I bother carrying around a business card?  Most business cards get thrown in the garbage, or if you’re lucky someone will scan or take a photo of it so they have a digital version before throwing the printed card away.  This leaves you with one chance for your business card to make an impact before it ends up in the circular file cabinet under a potential client’s desk.

    Business cards used to be important.  Years ago, the goal of my initial sales call was often to walk away with a business card in hand given to me by a potential client.  In the early 90’s, I recall a few pretentious executives that wouldn’t even hand you a business card because their contact information was so valuable – or at least they thought it was at the time.

    It was meaningful when I received a business card.  I would collected them and organize them in a binder with clear plastic card holders, ten cards to a page.  I would think of my cards like collectable baseball cards.

    There are some changes in the value of a business card today.  In the past, the most important thing about the card was the contact information: Name, Address, Phone and Fax Numbers.  Eventually we added email and website address information.  Today I can find all that information in seconds, so I thought I would save the trees and skip the business cards.  After all, what’s the point of that 3 1/2 by 2 inch paper card?

    In my business, we are all about digital assets. We don’t print many items at the office as we encourage digital production of everything.  I personally rarely even carry a piece of paper or pen with me anymore.  If I have to make notes, they get typed into some kind of digital device.  Everything is digital.  Easier to organize, better for the environment, win-win.  We communicate electronically today.  We sign contracts electronically, we attend meetings virtually, and we even network more online than at happy hours.  Not as fun, but that’s the way a lot of activity is done today.

    Here’s the rub.  Digital exchanges of contact information can be impersonal.  It’s convenient because it can be done as soon as you meet someone, but it lacks the personal touch.  In my opinion, many of us spend too much of our time with our face in front of an electronic device.  It’s easy to start to prefer an email over a conversation, or a virtual meeting over a physical one, but it’s nice to actual connect with someone in a personal way without reliance on a digital medium.  I have made many new relationships in recent years by leaving my cell phone in my pocket and actually shaking hands and having a conversation.  Business cards can open the door to a good old fashioned conversation.  And if you present an well-designed business card, your small talk can switch from talking about the weather to your business card itself and what products or services you provide.

    The key is to make your card demonstrate what it is that you do.  In my work we do a lot of digital design, so when developing our business cards we decided it was imperative that the card illustrate that we design things for a living.  This made our business cards an ideal marketing tool with the added practicality of providing our contact information.  More times than not, when I present my business card it prompts a conversation.  In my case, it’s a conversation about the design of the card.  The card therefore showcases what my company does without me having to explicitly state what it is we do  “This card is well designed, you must know how to design stuff.”  If you never have had a conversation about your business card after presenting it, then you don’t have a very good business card.

    Your business card can often be the first impression of you and your business.  It matters and it needs to count.  A well-designed card says a lot about you and your business.  So does a poorly designed card.  Being a small business owner, I understand the temptation to not spend a lot of time or money designing a card, but I challenge you to resist the urge to go cheap and settle on a business card from a template on an online printing website.  I am guilty of that myself in the past.  I handed out lots of these business cards in the past, and not one comment about the card itself.  That is, until we redesigned our business card.  Now 2 out of every 3 cards I hand out prompts a comment or a full conversation about the design of the card, and leaves the impression with the person I am speaking with that we in fact care about our work.

    Be creative with your business card.  Spend some time thinking about what you want your first impression to be.  This isn’t an easy thing to do.  We design for companies all the time, but when designing our business cards it wasn’t without a challenge.  It took a full team to come up with a card we are proud of.  

    The first step to designing your card is the concept.  In the case of the GRIM Digital Media business cards, we had to develop a concept that we all could work with.  My business partner, Matt Gebhardt, and I spent a good amount of time talking about what we wanted our card to represent.  In the end the concept was simple.  Our cards should simply demonstrate what we do.  Not literally, in the sense that we needed a lot of words on our card, but in the sense that the overall design should state what we do with a limited amount of words and a great design.

    We started with a concept.  We wanted to incorporate an image that was consistent with our brand.  After a few unsuccessful tries with elements that might relate to our company name, Matt suggested we try a Raven.  This made sense for us, and personally I have a thing for ravens so I was on board right away.  I recalled taking some photographs while at Yosemite National Park a few months back of a couple of ravens.  So the concept starting to take shape.  It evolved from a photograph to an abstract silhouette with ink trails coming from the raven representing design elements and sometimes prompting the question, “What is that?”  Typically followed by an epiphany when it hits the person that it is in fact, a raven.

    Quality stock and quality printing is a must.  A good design can be diminished by poor quality printing.  For our business card, we went with a solid medium-weight stock.  Not too thick, because it simply doesn’t feel right, and not so thin it feels cheesy.  This printing was done in layers with an Ultra Violet light treatment applied to both the black ink and the white ink.

    We wanted to take a risk with our cards as our business is heavy into design.  We decided that we would print black on black.  Now from a conceptual standpoint, printing black ink on a black background is like a polar bear in a snow storm.  At first thought, the concept simply doesn’t work.  But that’s what we wanted, regardless of the challenge.  So we toned the black background to more of a dark charcoal color, with black ink for the font. The real trick here is the UV Treatment that was applied to the ink.  This treatment raised the ink slightly off the card face, and gives it a sheen to help it stand out.  At first glance, the black on black on the front of the business card doesn’t stand out all that well – partially because of the small size of the font we chose.  This was the intentional risk that we took.  It almost requires turning the card at an angle to read the black ink, but the intent was that the white on black would pop off the card.  The information in White is the main message we wanted to leave someone with when presenting our card and our business.  Name, what we do, and the business website.  Incidentally, all we really need a potential client to remember is any part of the white print. Then if they search for this content on the internet, the client or potential client will find us.  If you have a good internet marketing company, that shouldn’t be a problem.

    We went with a two-sided design with elements of black and white.  We also got some help from our printing company, PAD Business Forms in Rochester, NY.  Matt Browne, the owner, and one of his designers, Patrick Collins, came up with a great concept to use an ink that could be treated with an ultra-violet light to create that slightly raised sheen on the cards, which was really what allowed us to use black on black, and helped the white almost jump off the card.  

    With the concept completed and the technical issues resolved, one of our designers, Lisa Gates, helped us create the completed design that was ready for print.  


    A good business card can take a team of people to create the perfect card.

    GRIM Digital Media Business Card Design Project:

    Concept and Initial Design:  

    Matt Gebhardt

    Gene Smith

    Final design:

    Lisa Gates

    Printing concept and fulfillment:

    Matt Browne

    Patrick Collins


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