Are creative business cards counter-productive?

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June 29, 2012
Being a business owner, entrepreneur or even just a freelancer can sometimes have its slower moments. When things get a little dry or you want to really increase your business, you've got to do some networking. Networking often leads to creating relationships. Making relationships with the right people almost always guarantees increases in business. See, even if you are just a freelance designer, I'm sure you can attest to the fact that the majority of your business has come from previous relationships or relationships that you cultivated. Networking can be tough. If you're anything like me, networking can be a little out of your comfort zone. But meeting someone face to face and explaining to them your benefits is something that cannot be avoided. Quite frankly, no one wants to work with someone they don't know, let alone someone who they just looked up. Creating relationships is dependent on first impressions. First impressions in networking often end up trickling down to a very important piece of the puzzle: the business card.

The purpose of business cards

The most important purpose of the business card is to inform. We're talking about networking here: when you and the person you just met, leave each other, you've got to be able to give that person something to let them know how to contact you. It also has to let them know who you are. Your business card has to give them all your essential professional information as well as your contact information. The business card is not and was never meant to be an alternative for those that lack the ability to network or those who just don't — dropping business cards somewhere is rarely effective. There are some business cards that have way too much information on them — business cards are not resumes, portfolios or product catalogs. There are some business cards that don't have enough information on them in an attempt to bait people into trying to find out more about them — but if I have no clue who or what you are, I probably have no interest in you. You want to have a business card that references who you are. All the extra stuff is completely secondary and should be added sparingly. Don't try to fit all your recent work on your card, maybe just a couple. Don't be too salesy on it, perhaps just have a coupon code or a special link to your web-shop. But never ever take away the essentials.

Heavy on the creativity?

Yes, everyone has a business card. Yes, there are a bunch of them that look alike and it's hard knowing you're handing your business card to a person that receives tons weekly or even daily. Yes, you want yours to stand out amongst them all. The problem here is it might be getting out of hand. Piling creative ideas on top of creative ideas on a 3.5 x 2 inch card is a bit much--even if you do change the dimensions. I mean, let's keep in mind we've got to have the essentials. But it's no longer uncommon for folks to want to make their business card useful or use some other sort of material or just make it super decorative. Should we really be doing this? The super-creative business card is fun to see. We in the design community eat up these business card inspiration posts. But are we really thinking about if it's performing its purpose? There are many business cards out there transform into something people can use. That's a really neat idea, but if it's too useful, then it could lose its informing abilities. If I'm too busy using it, I might not be all that interested in what's on it, especially if the two have nothing to do with each other. Sometimes we use different materials and different shapes and do all round different (yet creative) things to our business cards, but if it's too creative and not even useful, will people hold on to, or even remember it?

Some examples

It's tough as a designer to want to say something that may be way too creative. The business card has been in use for as long as I can remember — why try to reinvent the wheel on something that's not even broken? Why not just make something in between great creativity and usefulness? I understand many designers want to be remembered and leave an impression, but if we overdo things then it can be seen as counterproductive. Here, take a look at what I mean:

Asthma Allergy Centre

While this idea is extremely clever (without good lung health, you can't blow the balloon), it just feels like a gimmick, it isn't really all that useful. People like to store cards in their wallet; that's a little hard here. Wouldn't those with weaker lungs need this information more? Clever and cute idea, the longevity is in question however.

Choko La

Mmmm...chocolate. But when I unwrap my chocolate, I typically dispose of my wrapper. Not a bad idea, but the real gem here is the chocolate, the contact information happens to be secondary.

Gitam BBDO

Another great idea, but again, after usage the package just becomes trash. Not to mention this company has nothing to do with spices — that can get a bit confusing.

Murmure Communication and Design

This is a concrete business card. While there is a much deeper meaning here (I believe hidden in the embossing and typography) I think this is one of those ideas that is a bit too deep and too novel. It's made out of concrete.

Department of Energy

Beforehand, I will go ahead and concede that the target market for this business card is probably not graphic designers. If it were, it'd totally go over our heads. It's clever, because it's the Department of Energy, so they took what looks like some wire and stamped their info on it. It's not that great because it's extremely small and relatively useless.

Dog coach

So, after the dog eats the treat, what's the best way to contact him (especially if you are extremely forgetful)?

Environmental consultant

Recycling is something everyone should do — being eco-friendly helps all of us in the long run. Stamping your information on what seems to be trash just doesn't seem like the best way to do things. I get that the person is being eco-friendly and taking it to the extreme, but many printers have 100% recycled paper. Maybe it's just me, but I don't keep a ton of my receipts...or spare cardboard.

Head 2 Head shop

Some of us may not understand the usability of this business card, but I'm not afraid to say I do. This is an example of making your business card usable without having to sacrifice anything, as just half the card can be used as a filter. Next you just have to remember what you did with the card...

Electronic business card

Unfortunately, I am unsure of what happens when you push the button, but that does not change my skepticism. What happens when it just flat out doesn't work?

Mr. Lube

This is clever because it reminds you of the oil light on your car's dashboard. This is another creative business card that doesn't have to sacrifice a lot in order to get its point across.

Ninja BTL

The unusual shape makes this an extremely creative and standout business card, and it also makes a bunch of sense. My only issue and concern here, again is storage. I can't fit this into a wallet and it won't fare to well in a purse. Cool, nonetheless.

Paint & CIA

These magnetic business cards can attach to your car and help a lil' nick in your paint job. This is probably one of the most genuinely useful business cards I've ever seen. It's not stellar that you have to turn the card around to use the useful part, but this is extremely clever nonetheless.

Personal trainer

Folks really have great ideas when it comes to designing and creating business cards. This is another clever idea for a personal trainer, you have to stretch it open to use it. But much like the previous balloon business card, it seems counter productive and targeting the wrong group.

Mondo do Condominio

They sell cleaning products, so of course, it makes sense to put their information on a sponge. It's cute and they are small enough to fit in a wallet. I just hope the information stays on if someone decides to actually use them.

Tamiya Shop Direct

Basically, you're supposed to pop off the contact information and use it to make little figurines. Another, extremely cute idea that ends up sacrificing pretty much everything for the sake of creativity. However, the idea is so cool, I'd probably look them up after building.


Creativity is that thing that makes designers different from one another. It's a personal perspective that shines differently through each person. Too much creativity does not sound like a problem, but if you have too much of what makes sense to you, it may not make sense to someone else. Keeping things simpler does not mean you have to approach the problem without any creativity, it just means you want to create something that is widely acceptable and understood. On top of that, you don't want to go around sacrificing your contact information just to have a super creative business card. Business cards are tough because everyone has one and of course you want yours to stand out. But let's be honest, if your personality and presentation stand out, the need for a business card is sometimes irrelevant. I've known designers and business people who can get clients just based on their personality or other work they've done. Business cards are nice, but focus on the essentials, on creating relationships and giving out useful information, not just making the most super-creative business card you've seen. Then again, it could all be a trick just to get your business card, and by extension your name, on as many websites as possible. Touché.

Kendra Gaines

Kendra Gaines is a freelance designer from Virginia, USA. Connect with her.

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