The business card is often one of the first things that non-professionals or design beginners will try to design themselves. On the surface it seems like the perfect business card design should be a snap; just play around with a logo, web address, and phone number in a 3.5 x 2 space and “hey presto” there’s an awesome business card!
I have worked as a creative manager in the print industry for many years now, and I have seen a lot of business cards (as well as designing my fair share of them) and I can honestly say that well-designed business cards are in the minority. It’s much more common to see poorly composed cards with bad color and font choices.
But have no fear design beginners! I have put 5 essential rules to consider before designing your business card:
1. Start with a Simple Message
A business card, much like a logo, should be considered as a simple brand or personal statement. Start with this in mind. Graphically and with messaging, it should get your point across very quickly. That can’t be done when you have too many conflicting graphical and text elements.
Don’t try and say 1000 things on your business card. Your business card is not a flyer or a promotion. A business card should act as an introduction into a conversation you want to have. It’s not a sales pitch. Not only will too much text about yourself or your business clutter your design, but it may also make you appear a little bit self-involved and even “desperate” sounding!
However, there are a few things you definitely should not forget to include. Before you start designing, your business card should answer the following:
• Who you are
• What you do
• How to contact you (phone, email, links)
Anything else is likely to clutter your message and dilute your statement.
Good messaging includes links to your sites, portfolio site, and twitter page. Bad messaging includes unnecessary links to landing pages, video links, and sales offers. You might also want to include a company value proposition or quote if you think it adds value to your message but where business cards are concerned, less is always better.
2. Leave Space!
In most cases, you should think about designing a really neat and professional business card, rather than an overloaded business card that’s trying too hard to impress. Too many people try to fill in all blank spaces on a business card with head shots, product photos, patterns, cute characters, etc. There’s a time and place for designs that are full of photos and other detailed design elements but that is not on a business card! Even the most cutting-edge graphic design studios and ad agencies tend to stick to simple ideas rather than intricate graphic imagery (if not for the sheer impracticality of trying to put lots of image detail in a 3.5 x 2 sized design space.) There is a lot to be said for simple text composition treatments.
By all means use your logo and other simple graphical elements but be mindful that text needs to have room to breathe and to be easily read. Take advantage of space as much as possible by letting the text and fonts do most of the talking. Trying to include all your design “bells and whistles” doesn’t work on a business card because it prevents the viewer from focusing on your message.
Leaving space conveys professionalism in both a design sense and on a more subconscious level; someone who hands out a well composed and well-organized business card is communicating the same idea about themselves as a well-organized and professional individual.
When designing your business card, I also would strongly advise that you create a double-sided card rather than a single-sided card. Not only does it give you more design room to play with. Utilize the back for putting your web addresses, social media addresses, logo or other secondary info about yourself that you want to surface.
3. Avoid Psycho-Color and Clutter
You may be old enough to remember when a business card used to be a white piece of card with nothing more than your name and number in a sharp looking font. No logo, no photographs, and no clutter! Then the world suddenly went digital and people went mad with rainbow colors, high-gloss finishes, and photos covering every available space of their business card!
I think the old way was better. We can’t go back in time, but there is a definite design trend nowadays for simpler and more effective business cards that are closer to the original business card designs. Just because in today’s digital marketplace you are able to create multi-colored business cards, doesn’t mean that you should create them!
The key is to be selective about color! What colors convey professionalism? It’s a big mistake to think that ultra-bright colors will get you noticed. They are far more likely to turn people away. Using shocking colors is another way to take the viewers focus away from your message.
There is a lot of information available about color, what emotions it can represent, and how people generally react to it. Personally, I think your color choices are a lot to do with “common sense” decisions made about your business and what you want to convey. A slick black business card may be perfect for a Photographer or Designer but not so great choice for a Real Estate Agent who’s job is to sell bright new futures (not gloom and despair!)
4. Choose Your Fonts Wisely
Clean and readable are the keywords here. Choose a font that the viewer doesn’t have to struggle to read. Difficult-to-read fonts include grunge fonts, calligraphic fonts, and other overly elaborate fonts. Your font size for a business card is likely to be small. You need to use a font that supports being printed at 12pt or lower.
Classic font families such as Century, Helvetica, Gill Sans, Swiss, and Franklin are usually wise choices when it comes to adding your text. Only for the simple reason that they are easy-to-read, even when they are at 12pt or less.
When placing your fonts in your design space, pay extra-attention to where they’re going and how they contrast with other colors in your design space. It may seem obvious, but light-colored fonts won’t read on light-colored backgrounds, just as dark-colored won’t be visible on dark backgrounds. You should also watch out for background textures, patterns and other background imagery; even with a stroke or drop-shadow applied to your text, you’re making small text impossible to read when placed on-top of something that is visually textured.
5. Feel Free to be inventive (but not mad professor inventive)
It’s okay to be a little playful with your business cards. I’ve suggested that your business cards should look professional, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be creative with your designs. Some people respond to a more creative approach. Especially if your business suits a more relaxed design style. A cupcake bakery, for instance, would not be expected to create a business card that looked very corporate and professional (just as a business card that looked like it was for a cupcake bakery wouldn’t suit a tax advisory!)
There is room to think outside the box with your business card but don’t lose sight of the rules we’ve previously talked about. Don’t sacrifice legibility over doing something wild and crazy-colorful. The issues of space, clutter, and simplicity of message still apply. In the example above, we see a highly-creative business card that is fantastically creative whilst still remaining easy-to-read and follow.
These quick and easy rules represent a few things that you should consider before you design your card. As long as you always keep focused on simple messaging and design objectives, then you will design a successful card. Keep it simple and always remember to keep as much unnecessary text and visual clutter out of your cards.