What your business card says about you

From stock to font to design, the options are endless. But what does your calling card say about you?

“Look at that subtle off-white colouring, the tasteful thickness of it. Oh my God, it even has a watermark…”

So says Patrick Bateman – the wealthy, materialistic anti-hero of American Psycho. And of what is the Wall Street banker-cum-serial killer talking? Why, business cards, of course.

We all have them, small rectangles upon which our entire professional life is presented. And, from stock to font to colour to size, every little thing about these calling cards says something different about you. So, in an increasingly digital world, when such tactile touches are appreciated above almost every other business tradition, how can you ensure that your business card is sending the right message. In short: what does your business card say about you?

Gentleman’s Journal asked graphic designer and specialist in logo design Stephen Hoper why business cards are so key. “They’re very important,” says Hoper. “You can tell a lot about someone from their card. So developing a business card is a task which will affect the first impression on your current and potential clients. Here are some tips to follow if you’re considering a redesign.”

What your business card says about you

Begin by establishing - and sticking to - a brand identity

I’d recommend beginning by working with a designer to create a visual identity (aka a brand identity or corporate identity), however simple (e.g. a text-only logo with a specific colour scheme), that can be used in a consistent way as the foundation of all future promotional designs, helping to create a distinctive and successful brand. After a visual identity has been designed then it’s a relatively simple task to design consistently-branded promotional items such a business card, stationery, website or brochure.

What your business card says about you

Don’t discount certain fonts or colours immediately - think about it

The choices of font(s), stock and colour scheme have a huge influence on the resulting card design. There are no choices that are unsuitable for every business/individual – even Comic Sans might be the most suitable font for certain projects – but there will be choices that are more suitable for any particular business/individual.

The fonts and colours should be defined by the brand identity, so that the person’s business card has the same branded style as their other promotional items.

What your business card says about you

The stock of your card can be as important as what’s printed on it

For example, a business with a strong eco-friendly message might want to use card stock that is obviously recycled, whereas someone working in a traditional field such as law might prefer to play it safe and follow their industry’s design conventions.

A relatively thick card stock can help to reassure the receiver of the card that the business/individual is a trustworthy professional, whereas a relatively thin and flimsy card stock can suggest that the business/individual offers a low-budget service. The ideal choice of stock varies from one project to another, but in general I’d advise using card that’s 350gsm or heavier to ensure that the cards don’t feel thin and flimsy.

What your business card says about you

Only use gimmicks - such as metal cards - if they pertain to your business

Unusual materials/finishes/shapes and layouts can be very attention-grabbing, and are suitable for certain businesses/individuals who want to stand out from the crowd and emphasise the difference between them and their competitors, but they’re not suitable for all projects. The best approach is to discuss the available options with your designer and then make some choices which are likely to appeal to your current and potential clients.

What your business card says about you

Don’t make your card too big, but ensure there is plenty of blank space

It’s usually a wise idea to create a rectangular card at a standard size (85x55mm in the UK or 89x54mm in the USA) – a smaller size could work well, but I wouldn’t recommend using a larger size as it might not fit into the receiver’s wallet. When laying out the design it’s a good idea to include plenty of blank space rather than overcrowding the layout – ‘less is more’ is always a good rule of thumb.

It can be useful to test-print a single copy of a card design yourself, at actual size, to confirm that the design works well in context before committing to ordering hundreds of professionally-printed cards. When deciding what information to include, and how prominent it should be, it’s a good idea to first consider what the objective of the card is – for example, do you want the receiver of the card to phone you, email you, visit your website, and/or visit your high street shop/office.

What your business card says about you

Consult a designer - and learn to future-proof your card

I’d recommend beginning by finding a suitable designer and working with them to design a suitable visual identity. In general, the design should be on-brand, so the choice of font(s) and colour scheme should have been made during the brand identity design phase.

A mish-mash of different fonts, different text sizes, etc, and/or a crowded layout usually suggests that the card hasn’t been professionally designed as there’s a clear lack of attention to detail. Once this strong foundation has been created then it’s relatively quick and easy to design on-brand promotional materials.

When deciding what content to include on the card, try to future-proof the design as much as possible, e.g. consider excluding information which is likely to change very soon. In the interests of both your bottom line and the environment, be realistic and don’t order far more copies than you’ll ever need – most people ordering e.g. 500 copies of a card will never use them all before something changes (e.g. their job title or office address) which renders the remaining cards unusable.

Want to keep making the right impression? Here’s how to power dress for the office.

Further Reading